Review: Griffin Theatre’s Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle Presents a Charming May-December Romance With a Headscratching Title

Georgie and Alex aren’t exactly a matched pair. She’s American, a bit loud and aggressive; she swears a lot and doesn’t seem to be able to tell the truth about anything. He’s English, a quiet, lonely bachelor who owns a butcher shop and takes long walks around London listening to music. They meet at St. Pancras Station, after she kisses him—a complete stranger—on the back of his neck as he sits on a bench. She’s 42 and he’s 75. 

This awkward beginning—not exactly a meet-cute—turns out to be a sweet romance, as the two become friends, then lovers. (Georgie does a bit of chasing, or it wouldn’t have happened.) Laura Coover and Scott Anderson both give solid and believable performances as Georgie and Alex in this two-character play; you feel some chemistry develop between them. The play is Heisenberg: The Uncertainty PrincipleGriffin Theatre’s new production by English playwright Simon Stephens, directed by Nate Cohen.

Heisenberg is an entertaining 90 minutes but there are a few bumps in the road, most of them problems with the script rather than the staging or performances. Nate Cohen’s direction makes for smooth transitions from scene to scene, on a stage set up according to the playwright’s direction: Bare stage, walls and lighting rigs revealed, all props and costumes for the whole play on stage the entire time. (Scene design and lighting by  Garrett Bell, sound design by L.J. Luthringer, and costumes by Rachel Sypniewski.)

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

I’ve reviewed many of Stephens’ plays. He’s a Chicago favorite—an artistic associate at Steep Theatre where we’ve seen Light FallsBirdland and Wastwater, among others, and at Griffin, which has produced four Stephens plays, including Punk Rock in 2012. His stories and characters are intriguing and his dialog satisfying. Some of those attributes are present in Heisenberg, but he also seems to be aiming for some sort of profundity with the title. Unfortunately, although a few remarks are thrown in that try to shed light on what Werner Heisenberg has to do with this play, it generally fails. The play could be more appropriately titled Georgie and Alex Go to New Jersey—or better yet, Why Do Georgie and Alex Go to New Jersey? Because they do and that’s only one of the ways in which the script wanders.

But don’t blame the director or actors for that. Coover and Anderson mesh in a fine dual performance, carefully directed by Cohen. You won’t be sorry if you buy tickets to see Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle—although you might be puzzled later about what in the world the play has to do with quantum mechanics.

The play by Griffin Theatre continues at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., through March 26. Tickets are $40 for performances Thursday-Sunday. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Note that Raven Theatre requires everyone to wear masks while in the theater building. 

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.