Art Notes: ‘Heisenberg’ production takes on decidedly human uncertainty

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    Actors Monica Orozco, left, and Jamie Horton meet on a park bench in the beginning of Northern Stage's production of "Heisenberg," running from Feb. 16 through March 6, 2022. (Mark Washburn photograph) Mark Washburn—

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    Actors Jamie Horton, right, and Monica Orozco star in Simon Stephens' 2015 play "Heisenberg," running at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., from Feb. 16 through March 6, 2022. (Mark Washburn photograph) Mark Washburn—

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/23/2022 9:45:08 PM
Modified: 2/23/2022 9:44:45 PM

Nothing sends an English major running to the encyclopedia quite like a mathematical concept.

In his clever 2015 play Heisenberg, now in production at Northern Stage, Simon Stephens never mentions Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle by name, but it casts a shadow over the show’s two characters.

The internet abounds with definitions of the famed principle. I like Wikipedia’s, though I cut it down a bit: “In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the accuracy with which the values for certain pairs of physical quantities of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be predicted from initial conditions.”

Stephens applies this concept to people, namely Georgie and Alex, whom we meet just after the former has kissed the latter on the neck while he was sitting on a bench at a London train station. She thought he was someone else, or at least that’s what she says. Georgie’s 42, American, emotional and saucy. Alex is a dour London septuagenarian.

From here, the play’s title says, things could go anywhere. In the hands of Northern Stage, the result is an enjoyable, at times profound, evening of theater.

Aside from the writing, the main reason for that is Jamie Horton, now a fixture in Upper Valley theater. His authoritative performance as Alex, a deeply lonesome working class Londoner, Irish by birth, held Saturday night’s opening performance aloft, as he was meant to do. At the outset, Alex’s velocity and position are easy to plot.

As Georgie, Monica Orozco, a Chicago-based actor making her Northern Stage debut, has a tougher job. Her movement and unpredictability drive the action forward, while also revealing aspects of her character that can be hard for the audience to grasp. She isn’t locatable, at least at first. It seemed an impossible job for a performer to pull off.

“I have a complete inability to control my own language,” Georgie says, explaining why she cusses so much.

My heart, and expectations, sank a little bit in this opening scene. An impulsive and emotional woman has a meet-weird with a stoic, reticent man. How typical.

But Horton’s deftness kept the play from drifting off. He delivered his terse, witty lines in a sharp Irish brogue and his performance is a master class in vocal and gestural economy. As the play moves through its six scenes and 90 minutes, Alex and Georgie reveal more about themselves, plotting their movements for each other and the audience.

This is how Stephens designed the play to function, but it’s a high-wire act to keep from overstepping the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. The twists and turns of Georgie’s character at times stretch her to the breaking point. I wasn’t sure that Orozco and director Sarah Elizabeth Wansley had kept it together, but I also wasn’t sure they were supposed to.

In the end, this play with its science-y name gives us something more down to earth: human connection.

“People worry too much about what they are, you know,” Alex says. “They should worry a lot more about what they do.” How much better is this line when we know it was written before the current incarnation of our seemingly endless culture war?

While it’s easy to see Alex and Georgie as types at the start of Heisenberg, as we learn the details — particularly of those things we all share: losses — we are presented with a reminder that we can never know fully the mind or motivations of another person. It’s hard enough to know one’s own mind, isn’t it?

Northern Stage’s production of Heisenberg runs through March 6. For tickets and more info, go to or call 802-296-7000.

Big names play Anonymous Coffeehouse

Lebanon’s Anonymous Coffeehouse, which sets up in the First Congregational Church off Colburn Park on Friday nights, offers an interesting triple bill starting at 7:30.

First up is recent Upper Valley transplant Tommy Crawford, who’s probably best know around here for his work at Northern Stage, including as Paul McCartney in a production of Only Yesterday. Here, he’ll play original songs.

Next up are The Native Palms, a Brooklyn-based indie rock trio. I looked them up and the only recording I could find was from last April, when the band was a four-piece playing what sounded like country rock to me.

The final act is Bill Ellis, a celebrated interpreter of folk and country blues singers such as Reverend Gary Davis, Leadbelly and Blind Blake.

Admission to the coffeehouse is free, but a hat is passed for the musicians and donations are accepted for coffee and baked goods. Go to for more info.

With a snowstorm expected Friday, don’t be surprised if this bill gets canceled or postponed.

High school show ends Thursday

AVA Gallery and Art Center has moved up the ending of its “14th Annual High School Exhibition” to Thursday night, in deference to Friday’s expected snowstorm. A reception is planned for 5 to 7 Thursday evening.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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