Unflinching 'Heisenberg' at GableStage Examines Human Relationships

Colin McPhillamy and Margery Lowe in


Colin McPhillamy and Margery Lowe in "Heisenberg" at GableStage. (Photo by Magnus Stark)

Aaron Krause, Theater Critic

It seems fitting that, after you experience a play inspired by “The Uncertainty Principle,” you may feel uncertain about the piece’s purpose.

But don’t rack your brain trying to pinpoint this scientific principle by German physicist Werner Heisenberg within the play’s action – you may become unnecessarily frustrated.

Instead, if you think just a bit about Simon Stephens’ touching dramedy, “Heisenberg,” you will likely uncover a central theme – the mystery of human relationships. More specifically, the play seems to ask, “how can two people who seem so different in every way connect so closely and influence each other so strongly?”

The two individuals, in this case, are Georgie Burns and Alex Priest. Georgie is a highly talkative, dramatic, and unrestrained 42-year-old from New Jersey.

And Alex is a reserved 75-year-old Irish butcher living in England. They are the only characters in “Heisenberg” and they are as different as “The Odd Couple’s” Felix and Oscar.  

By the way, Burns’ profession remains a bit of a mystery.

GableStage, is presenting the piece in a compelling and convincing production through Nov. 20. The venue is GableStage’s intimate playing space next to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Two great performers comprise the cast. Specifically, they are Margery Lowe, as Georgie, and Colin McPhillamy, as Alex.

Margery Lowe and Colin McPhillamy in


Margery Lowe and Colin McPhillamy in "Heisenberg." (Photo by Magnus Stark)

South Florida theater fans recently saw Lowe shine as poetess Emily Dickinson in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of “The Belle of Amherst.” And McPhillamy triumphed in City Theatre’s production of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” in Miami.   

Stephens is the same writer who deftly took us into the mind of a teenager with behavioral difficulties in the stage adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” In “Heisenberg,” Stephens presents us with two likable characters. They leap into our hearts and remain there long after the play is over. 

When the present day-set play opens, Georgie spots Alex in a crowded London train station. For some reason, she kisses his neck. Perhaps, for Georgie, the urge to do so was as automatic as a patient’s knee-jerk reaction during a medical check-up. The kiss marks just the beginning of a relationship that starts off awkwardly, filled with tension, but blossoms into a warm romance.

The relationship develops gradually over the course of several weeks.

With an attention to detail, GableStage Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport sensitively directs the production. It runs about 90 minutes without an intermission.

At the beginning, we sense that it may be impossible for the characters to develop a mutual attraction. Indeed, from the start, Alex seems repulsed by Georgie’s unrestrained, highly-dramatic exuberance, girlish excitement, and pretend mischievousness. Notice as McPhillamy’s Alex contorts his face into an expression combining confusion, exasperation, and annoyance.

You know how certain substances attract bees? Well, the opposite seems to happen when Lowe’s Georgie comes too close to, or touches McPhillamy’s Alex. 

 “Why are you talking to me?” a baffled Alex asks in McPhillamy’s sing-songy voice. He looks at Georgie as though she were a newly-arrived alien from outer space. But as annoyed and exasperated as McPhillamy makes Alex during the play’s early stages, Lowe’s Georgie does not let up one bit. As Lowe brilliantly portrays her character, physically and emotionally, the character, on her knees, leans into Alex. It is as though she is an attention-starved, energetic puppy hoping for a belly rub or treat from her owner. Suddenly, while leaning in, Georgie grabs Alex’s shirt, pulls him close to her, and asks whether he wishes to sleep with her. 

At first, McPhillamy’s Alex strongly rejects such advances. But as time passes, and the advances don’t stop, something starts to attract Alex to Georgie.

Slowly, but surely, Alex’s expression combining confusion, exasperation, and annoyance lessens, and his face begins to crease into a smile.  By the time the couple is happily touching and dancing with each other, at the end, their closeness feels earned. That is because we watched as the changes happened bit by bit, almost unnoticeably.

Strangers on a train: Georgie Burns (Margery Lowe) and Alex Priest (Colin McPhillamy) in GableStage's


Strangers on a train: Georgie Burns (Margery Lowe) and Alex Priest (Colin McPhillamy) in GableStage's "Heisenberg" directed by Bari Newport. (Photo by Marcus Stark)

While change happens gradually in GableStage’s fluid production, the proceedings move swiftly, but not too quickly. And Newport arranges the performers into positions that reinforce the characters’ relationship with each other. Lowe, a radiant red-headed, brown-eyed actress, is a remarkable actor. Impressively, she looks and sounds natural even as she speaks and gestures dramatically. Nothing in Lowe’s performance looks or sounds forced. Picture a charismatic children’s librarian or kindergarten teacher enthusiastically reading a dramatic story to little ones, using her whole body to express herself, even standing on a desk if necessary. That should give you an idea of what Lowe’s performance is like.

To her credit, Lowe deftly plays Georgie with restraint when that becomes necessary. And she believably sounds pained when she tells her new friend about a problem she is facing.

McPhillamy, sporting a grey beard, grey hair around the side and back of his head, and wearing glasses angled upward on his face, excels as Alex. Whether Alex is expressing exasperation and annoyance toward the beginning, or charm and wonder toward the end of the play, it's all believable. In a stark contrast from Lowe’s big, dramatic gestures and voice, McPhillamy plays Alex with restraint.

Together, Lowe and McPhillamy, who have previously appeared onstage together, display great chemistry.

Behind the scenes, scenic designer Frank J. Oliva has created a striking set. On stage, a dark wall forms a semi-circular arch. Lamps hang from the ceiling and benches rest onstage. In between scenes, stagehands arrange the benches into different shapes to change settings. Fortunately, they do not take too much time to do so.

Thanks to projection designer Alessandra Cronin’s fine work, pictures projected onto a screen, such as those of a train station and a park, help place us into different settings. In addition, signs that resemble those you might find at a train station tell us where a particular scene takes place.

Also, behind the scenes, sound designer Sean McGinley helps to ensure we can hear every word that the actors utter. In addition, McGinley includes music to reinforce mood.

Lighting designer Tony Galaska’s work also contributes to a scene’s mood. For instance, during romantic moments, Galaska leaves the stage mostly dark. And costume designer Camilla Haith clothes the actors in outfits that tell us something about their characters.

Despite their vast differences, these characters share at least two things in common: They are both human and alive. Since we are living during a particularly divisive and tense time, a reminder that we share these two things in common with our fellow human beings is always welcome. And to receive that reminder through Stephens’ elegant and eloquent words is a theatrical treat.


“Heisenberg” runs through Nov. 20 at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave. in Coral Gables. Show times are 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range in price from $35-$65. For more information, or to buy tickets, call (305) 445-1119 or go to


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