Simon Stephens’ play Heisenberg, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, is not about German physicist Werner Heisenberg (nor, for Breaking Bad aficionados, does it have anything to do with an alias for Walter White).
But the scientist’s well-known uncertainty principle, which one of the characters in this two-person play references, does bear on what Stephens is at work on here. Let’s condense it by saying, basically, that there is a limit to the precision with which certain pairs of properties can be known.
That’s certainly the case with the relationship between Georgie Burns (Rachel Moulton) and Alex Priest (George Tynan Crowley). She’s a 40-ish American living in London, with an unknowable nature; since she admits she’s a serial liar, it’s hard to be certain of anything that comes out of her mouth. But this much is sure: Her decision to kiss Alex, a complete stranger, on the back of the neck in a train station just before the play’s action commences is a life changer for both of them.
For Alex, an Irish-born, much older butcher who hasn’t had true intimacy with anyone in years, Georgie is both frightening and seductive. What does she see in him? A friend or lover in her own unsettled life? A cash source? A helper in finding the estranged son she claims to have? Who can explain the mysteries of attraction? How many times have we all wondered what the two halves of a couple see in each other?
Georgie’s kiss leads to an encounter at Alex’s butcher shop, a date, and, eventually, a tryst at his home, where Crowley’s vulnerability is touching to see. Georgie is outrageous, letting her words spill out without any filter, occasionally thrilling and sometimes alienating the hesitant Alex. “Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she asks him at one point, and the answer would be yes.
As much as Heisenberg might relate to physics, it’s chemistry that is crucial in any two-person show. Fortunately, Crowley and Moulton have that, fumbling their way along in the uncertainties of their journey with a convincing mix of comedy and pathos. Under the direction of Kate Alexander, the staging initially places them in a theater setting (designed by David Arsenault), where a ghost light, a white drape and a few chairs and tables could indicate a rehearsal at work. The conceit means the actors can make quick, minor costume changes off to the sides without ever actually leaving the stage. It works well enough, but it probably isn’t necessary to the play.
What is necessary is that we find ourselves as mystified, frustrated, and yet drawn by Georgie as Alex does, and we do thanks to Moulton, who delivered a strong one-woman performance in FST’s Grounded last year and here presents a believable portrait of a character who could certainly be annoying or unsympathetic in the wrong hands.
Can this unlikely pair make any sort of a go at it? That takes us back to the uncertainty principle, but you will probably find yourself rooting for them.
Heisenberg is onstage through March 4 (running about 90 minutes with no intermission) For tickets, call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.