Faline England and Joe Spano have headlined some of the Rubicon Theatre Company’s most memorable productions, from classics such as All My Sons and Waiting for Godot to new plays like Gulf View Drive. But Indy Award winner England, a proud product of UCSB’s theater department, and Emmy Award winner Spano, a veteran television and film actor with credits running from Hill Street Blues to NCIS, have never worked together.
That changes beginning this weekend, when they costar in the Ventura company’s new production of Heisenberg. A Broadway hit in 2016, Simon Stephens’s drama portrays the unlikely relationship between two people of different ages, nationalities, and temperaments. It tells a delicate story about the pain of alienation and the difficulty of connecting with another human being.
The title is a reference to the famous physicist, whose uncertainty principle states that the more closely you observe a subatomic particle — or, arguably, a human being — the more it surprises you. That truism certainly applies to these always-astonishing artists. Their director is Katharine Farmer, who staged Rubicon’s highly regarded recent revival of South Pacific.
Is it true you met in Santa Barbara at Speaking of Stories?
Joe Spano: That’s exactly right. It was May of last year. We read separate stories on the same night. She was so extraordinarily connected to the story she read. Afterwards, I went up to her and said, “You are the real deal.” I remembered there was a play called Heisenberg that was running in New York at that time. I called it up on my phone, showed it to Faline, and said, “We should do this.”
Faline England: I had never heard of it. But I bought it quickly, and I read it.
JS: You texted me, “Fuck — I love this play!”
FE: But it was also a terrifying read. It felt like an impossible feat. Then we went to see it together [when it was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles]. After that, we didn’t rehearse or even speak about it. We just got a bunch of people together in a room, including people from the Rubicon and the Laguna Playhouse, and read it cold. A few weeks later, the two theaters decided they wanted to produce it together.
What was so scary about it?
FE: It’s about two very lonely people who find a wonderful, explosive unity. They’re two alienated creatures who find each other. There’s a large age difference, which to me is both terrifying and sweet. Aging is scary, and to be alone while aging is even more scary.
JS: It raises a lot of questions about age. How does one manage to stay involved in life as one ages? These people are willing to engage each other, as dangerous as it might be. She’s open; he responds to that openness. That affords him an opportunity to uncover some of his demons.
What are the play’s deeper themes?
FE: The exploration of the play is, “How do you live when you love so intensely, so deeply, that everything affects you?”
JS: And how can you live if you have a vision of yourself as a very small figure in a large world? How can you reach out and be worthy of someone else? At 4 in the morning, we all sometimes come close to a really dark reality. How do you articulate those deep, and sometimes scary, perceptions?
You two have been informally working on this for a few months. What’s the advantage of living with this material for a long time?
FE: I don’t know if I would be able to do this if I didn’t have this much time. I have never worked on anything this challenging. The challenge is making everything true — including the contradictions and the paradoxes. And the language is really hard. I never stop talking!
Heisenberg opens Saturday, February 2, at 7 p.m. and runs through February 17, at the Rubicon Theatre (1006 E. Main St., Ventura). Call (805) 667-2900 or see rubicontheatre.org.