Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg, onstage now at Burning Coal Theatre Company under the direction of Emily Ranii, is a sort of poor man’s Harold and Maude. It is a story of what happens when a woman in her 40s, Georgie Burns (Sarah Hankins), forcefully wheedles herself into the life of a much older man, Alex Priest (Tom McCleister). While she does have some ulterior motives in mind from their first meeting, they form a sort of bond and ultimately end up developing a relationship of sorts, on their own terms. All of this is packed into a slow-moving 85 minutes, and, though there are a few nice moments along the way, the production ultimately feels a bit flat.
Written as an endearing-despite-her-faults, manic-pixie-dream-girl type of character, the right portrayal of the pushy, intrusive Georgie is crucial to the show’s success. Without just the right touch, the character easily becomes grating and obnoxious, making it impossible for her to garner sympathy from the audience. Unfortunately, that is the case here. Hankins plays the complex character strictly for laughs, failing to believably connect with her more emotional side, creating a lopsided viewing experience, one where the viewer is aware he should feel a certain way but does not. Similarly, McCleister, while he does have some nice moments in his portrayal of quiet, introverted Alex, fails to truly connect with his character’s demons, creating a rather one-dimensional character.
With stronger, more connected performances, it would be easy to gloss over some of the faults in the writing- the “spell it out” relation to the title and the falseness that rings in some of the dialogue. However, here, the faults in the script become even more glaring.
None of this is to say that the production is fully without merit. The practically-barren stage is a nice touch for two characters who should be baring their souls for the audience, and costume designer Kathy Werlin’s subtle use of color to tie the characters together is just perfect.
Sadly, though, these things are not enough to save the disconnected performances and the somewhat lacking storyline. While the production has great potential, it still appears to be a work in progress.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents HEISENBERG at 2 p.m. Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26-28, 2 p.m. Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2-4, and 2 p.m. Feb. 5 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA1q5CgyqqY. STUDY GUIDE: http://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/heissgsm.pdf.
“WARNING: [This play contains] some strong language (very lite R),” according to Burning Coal.
Heisenberg (2015 Off-Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5262 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Simon Stephens (English playwright): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/stephens-simon.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database), https://twitter.com/StephensSimon (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Stephens (Wikipedia).
Emily Ranii (director and assistant professor of performing arts at Wheelock College in Boston, MA): http://burningcoal.org/emily-ranii/ (Burning Coal bio), http://www.wheelock.edu/academics/faculty-and-administration/ranii-emily (Wheelock College bio), and https://www.facebook.com/emily.ranii (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.