Heisenberg: the zigzag path to romance, at Shadow Theatre. A review

Glenn Nelson, Amber Borotsik in Heisenberg, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s named for a scientific principle that’s all about the unprincipled nature of the particulate world — its randomness and unpredictability.

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(You can’t measure the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously with any precision, according to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Which makes it, to the layperson non-scientist sitting in a theatre, potentially way more fun than, say, the Theory of Relativity or gravity or any of the laws of thermodynamics). 

Anyhow, Heisenberg, by the Brit playwright Simon Stephens (of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time fame), has a lot more to do with oddball chemistry, and unexpected sparks, than with physics — as you’ll see in Shadow Theatre’s production, now running at the Varscona (a 200-seat house). It starts with an encounter between strangers in a London railway station. Georgie (Amber Borotsik), a 40-something free spirit of American provenance impulsively kisses the neck of Alex a quiet, reserved 75-year-old Irish butcher who’s sitting on a bench.

There’s no use asking why this happens. Georgie seems as surprised as Alex. And in the unpredictable exchanges that follow, she seems to blurt out, then qualify, then amend or deny or contradict, in the same breath, whatever occurs to her in the moment. Verbal pinball, you might say. “I’m an assassin. I’m not really….” Or “We never had children. Which is one thing. I don’t regret it. I do really.”

Does she have a husband? Is she a waitress at Ottolenghi’s fancy restaurant? Might she actually have a son? “It’s best to assume that everything I told you was a complete fabrication,” Georgie tells Alex when next they meet.

Amber Borotsik, Glenn Nelson in Heisenberg, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

It’s a relationship of sudden, unexpected “next’s.” And the way it evolves into a romance, by a kind of unplanned (or is it?) seductiveness, surprises Alex by turning out to be irresistible.

The charismatic Borotsik captures the startling but appealing charm of Georgie, who never shuts up, flits from thought to thought, and gradually erodes Alex’s life-time of defences by her sheer animation, persistence, and fleeting moments of attentiveness. She’s a hard person to say no to, as you’ll see in Borotsik’s performance. This captivating and capricious kook may in the end be maddening (she predicts this), but she’s the sworn enemy of the boring response; “I have a complete inability to control my own language.”

Amber Borotsik and Glenn Nelson in Heisenberg, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

And Nelson creates a character whose layers of habits, reserve, and caution conceals untapped depths. Alex has a surprising kind of sturdiness; he thinks about his answers before presenting them to a free-associative barrage of questions. In one of my favourite scenes, Georgie suddenly asks him what sort of music he listens to, and dismisses his answer, all kinds, like so much fluff: “everybody says that.” Alex surprises her, and us, by carefully listing a couple of dozen different genres of music, symphonic to “the music that came out of Manchester at the end of the eighties.” Who knew?

In John Hudson’s production and Elise CM Jason’s design, the actors move bits and pieces of the set on and off, to abruptly change location. Which is about right for the zigzags of this hopeful little two-hander. Darrin Hagen’s lush and wistful-unto-angsty score is lovely. But it plays very loudly between scenes, and seems a little heavy-handed and melancholy for a play as light and whimsical and quirky as Heisenberg.

Which brings us back to a sense of uncharted possibility that a romance named after the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to promise. Human relationships and even romance hatch out of the unlikeliest locations, and take courses that you just can’t predict. It’s not a profound insight, in truth, but it has an appealing bright side. Something to enjoy in dark times.



Theatre: Shadow

Written by: Simon Stephens

Directed by: John Hudson

Starring: Amber Borotsik, Glenn Nelson

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: through March 29

Tickets: 780-434-5564, shadowtheatre.org



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