ARLINGTON – To what extent we’ll open ourselves to every-day, often overlooked, love is at the basis of Signature Theatre’s play “Heisenberg” now onstage in Arlington through Nov. 11.
A two-person play by award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, the play features two strangers who meet on the track of a London train station and embark on a remarkable journey. Georgie (Rachel Zampelli) is an American woman in her 40’s who may be a compulsive liar, scam artist or unhinged neurotic. Alex (Michael Russotto) is a 75-year-old butcher who is conservative, restrained and never takes a vacation. On the surface, they seem totally the opposite.
Yet director Joe Calarco and this talented cast present a compelling and entertaining case of how love can develop, particularly when future or past dreams may never manifest, and despite conventional norms.
According to Calarco, “What I love about this play is that it is a portrait of two isolated, fractured people, who happen upon each other by chance…and learn that embracing life, however difficult it may be, is much better than the alternative.”
As Georgie, Zampelli is a whirlwind in motion, fast-talking and oblivious to boundaries, as she happens upon Alex sitting on a train station bench. He is not waiting for a train, but rather just whiling the time away. As Georgie nears him, we are not sure if they know each other, or if she is sizing him up as a mark.
When she walks up and plants a kiss on his neck, startling him, we wonder if she has made an innocent mistake or not. What follows is both funny and a bit unnerving as we see Georgie pour out intimate and ever-changing stories, profanity and odd behavior that includes constantly snapping a rubber band around her wrist.
For Alex, her stories of mistaking him for her deceased husband and prodding him for intimate details about his life are overwhelming. When she shows up later at his butcher shop, saying he should ask her out on a date, he feels like he has been stalked.
Yet, despite Alex’s polite attempts to distance himself from this eccentric woman, he allows Georgie into his organized and routine life, which includes walking the same path to work for 20 years. In the process, we see how both have been hiding their own deep sorrow. Georgie, who later admits her deceptions, longs to connect with her estranged son who is somewhere in New Jersey. Alex has not gotten over the loss of his younger sister and a fiancée who spurned him when he was a young man.
As Georgie, Zampelli is both amusing and scary, a force of nature, as she talks a mile a minute about stories that may or may not be true. Self-deprecating, while tugging at her clothes and hair, Zampeli is both child-like and brazen as she oversteps normal boundaries—including reading Alex’s personal diary and asking for a favor that becomes a stickler in the play.
Russotto plays Alex with a measured and even sensibility, wary of Georgie, but drawn to her strange and energetic charm. Russotto, whose lovely Irish accent is spot on, is impressive as he gradually loosens up and allows the tender side of Alex to be displayed. Particularly moving is a scene in which Alex explains to Georgie the beauty of a classical music piece, and he is surprising and sexy during a sultry tango number.
In the end, as Georgie searches for her son in vain and Alex realizes that his former fiancée will never return, they realize that the love that has grown between them, like the quiet spaces in the music, is what matters most.
In “Heisenberg”, Pamela Weiner’s set design consists of a red rectangular floor that is furnished with a pair of tables with folding panels that change from a bed to benches, to a bar and bar seat, and the actors move them themselves to transform a scene. Emotions surface, even with this seemingly simple act—adding sheets to make a bed is a sexy form of foreplay and panels can be slammed shut to depict anger and frustration.
“Heisenberg” runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets, visit SigTheatre.org.