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Posts Tagged ‘simon stephens’

Heisenberg
by Simon Stephens
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St.Louis, Studio
October 27, 2017

Joneal Joplin, Susan Louise O’Connor
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is opening its Studio season with a much talked-about two-character play called Heisenberg. It’s a short play, running at just under an hour and a half, and the focus is much more on character than on the plot. It’s a clever, somewhat unpredictable script that serves as a great showcase for its two excellent lead performers.

The title of this play isn’t referenced in the story itself, but it’s one a lot of people will be familiar with, even if they aren’t well-versed in physics. Although associated with a particular scientific concept, one doesn’t really have to know anything about physics to get the gist of this title. Essentially, the first word most people associate with the name Heisenberg is “uncertainty”, and in this play, that’s the general idea. Life is uncertain, and people are uncertain, and we don’t even know how much time we have with the people who come into our lives. The story follows the quirky relationship of two very different people, the 40-something American expat Georgie (Susan Louise O’Connor) and 75-year-old Irish-born butcher Alex (Joneal Joplin), who meet at a train station in London and eventually become more involved in one another’s lives, due largely to Georgie’s persistence. Over the course of their relatively short acquaintance (six weeks, according to director Steven Woolf’s note in the program), there are lies, misrepresentations, revelations, sudden decisions, and other surprises as we learn more about these two and the qualities that draw them together. There isn’t much else to say that doesn’t spoil too much, but the real focus here is on the relationship, as these two characters grow closer and show how their relationship and their interactions with the world around them and other important people in their lives shapes their present decisions, relationship, and character.

The set here is minimal. Designed by Peter and Margery Spack, it consists mainly of two long tables and some chairs, with video screens to help suggest the setting. Nathan W. Scheuer’s lighting and Rusty Wandall’s sound also contribute to the overall atmosphere here, which is more of a suggestion of settings than a concrete representation. Marci Franklin’s costumes are well-suited to the characters and their well-defined personalities.

And it’s those personalities that are the chief focus of this show, boldly embodied by the superb actors who bring them to life. Joplin does a great job of presenting Alex as a well-rounded character even early on, when he doesn’t speak as much and is largely reacting to Georgie. There’s so much communicated in Joplin’s mere looks and reactions, and as we find out more about him as the play progresses, Joplin continues to make these revelations fascinating, and his chemistry with O’Connor is wonderful. O’Connor is equally superb as the more outwardly expressive Georgie, although we soon learn that although she’s not as reserved as Alex, she has her own secrets. The contrast and dynamic between these two characters is really what makes the play so fascinating, and the performers here make the most of that relationship.

The play is fairly simple, plot-wise, even though its driven by a series of surprises, and the ending is somewhat abrupt. The point, I suppose, is that we never really know what to expect from life, so we might as well make the most of it while we are here. Here, that lesson is exemplified by two memorable characters in this witty, poignant play. This production, with it’s terrific leads and the assured direction of Steven Woolf, carries its message well. Life may be uncertain, but this play is certainly worth seeing.

Joneal Joplin, Susan Louise O’Connor
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Heisenberg in its Studio Theatre until November 12, 2017.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Simon Stephens
Based on the Novel by Mark Haddon
Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
September 8, 2017

Nick LaMedica and Cast
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been an elusive play for me. It was playing in London the last time I was there, and it was sold out. It was also playing in New York the last time I was there, and it was also sold out. I had read the book on which this play is based, and I’d heard great things about the stage version, but for some reason whenever I was in a position to see it, I wasn’t able to get a ticket. Now, fortunately, the Rep is opening its latest season with this play, finally giving me the opportunity to see it, and this show is definitely worth the wait. Cleverly staged and impeccably cast, this is a profoundly moving production.

If the title sounds like a Sherlock Holmes story, that’s no accident, because 15 year old Christopher Boone (Nick LaMedica) loves Sherlock Holmes stories, and when a mystery presents itself in the form of the death of a neighbor’s dog, Christopher is determined to solve that mystery. The mathematically gifted Christopher, who appears to be on the autism spectrum, lives in England with his father, Ed (Jimmy Kieffer) and goes to a “special school” which serves as the backdrop for much of the play’s action. His teacher, Siobhan (Kathleen Wise) encourages him as he writes a book about his discoveries in an investigation that leads him on an unusual path to an unexpected destination, and to some rather surprising revelations about his family and the people closest to him. On the way, we find out a lot about Christopher and how he sees the world and how he relates to those around him.

The staging of this production is apparently a lot different than it’s London and Broadway stagings, which featured more special effects. This production, designed for the Rep by Narelle Sissons, isn’t as high-tech but it’s still wondrous. It’s essentially Christopher’s classroom, but the walls are decorated with various words and mathematical symbols, and areas for Christopher to write and draw as he takes us along on his extremely personal adventure. There are various movable set pieces as well, and the ensemble also contributes to the set in inventive ways as Christopher’s self-appointed mission takes him to new places, from his own neighborhood to bustling London and back again. The costumes by Leon Wiebers and the stunning lighting by Matthew Richards also contribute to the full realization of Christopher’s world.

The show is dynamically staged, with a strong ensemble supporting the truly remarkable performance of LaMedica as Christopher. This is his story, and his world, and LaMedica inhabits the character and his world with energy, strength, and warmth that projects through his sometimes detached manner. Although the set, play structure, and production values do a lot in terms of bringing the audience into Christopher’s world, it’s LaMedica who most makes us care for this character. He navigates Christopher’s journey in a variety of emotions from cool detachment, to suspicion, to curiosity, to sheer joy when he’s solving complicated math problems. It’s a brilliant performance, ably supported by Kieffer as Christopher’s loving but weary and secretive father, Ed, by Wise as Christopher’s understanding and dedicated teacher, by Dale Hodges in various roles including a kindly neighbor of Christopher’s, and by Amy Blackman as Christopher’s mother, Judy. There’s also a strong ensemble playing various roles as needed, from teachers in Christopher’s school to neighbors and other people he meets in the course of the story.

This is a profoundly moving play. It’s cleverly staged and fast-moving, with a good balance of humor and drama. It’s a fascinating exploration of this one young man’s life and character, and his own approach to the challenges, relationships, and revelations he encounters. This is an excellent start to the Rep’s new season, and a truly riveting theatrical experience.

Nick LaMedica
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time until October 1, 2017.

 

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