Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
With The Uncertainty Principle, playwright and actor Teresa Mock has spun such a story, weaving together shards of her father Paul's life with bits of her own to produce a fabric that is moving and amusing in equal measures. Mock's representation of her father and of their relationshipboth as written and as performedis laden with love and admiration, while maintaining a frankness that seeks to assure us this is not a glorified depiction of the man, but a down to earth window into his essence.
At the same time, Paul is somewhat of an enigma. His years of military service in Vietnam during the height of the war certainly pressed a significant stamp upon his psyche, but we are told enough about his youth to know that he entered the armed forces with his unique persona already formed. He is impacted by a harsh stepfather who causes Paul to be wary of authority, a viewpoint he carried with him during the war, where he was horrified by the violence dispensed by his fellow soldiers, who chided him for not being suitably patriotic. Aside from that, he is a curious youth who does not easily submit to the pre-determined boxes of personality types, and has a thirst to understand the parts of things that cause them to work.
That thirst to understand his world down to the smallest particles is revealed in conversations with his daughter, often while taking one of their frequent road trips to vast assortment of destinations, some commonplace, others quirkysuch as a day-long ride to Alliance, Nebraska, and back to see Carhenge, the attraction built as a parody of Stonehenge, but out of old automobiles rather than stone slabs. Riding cross-country, Paul expounds on quantum mechanics, neutrinos, and other phenomena including the "uncertainty principle," the theory that states we cannot determine both the location and the speed of an object at the same time. Paul seems to take solace in this notion as an affirmation of his own indeterminate life, and pleasure in the reports that even Albert Einstein, who groused against the principle, came to admit that it's "just the way things are."
Mock's father comes across as the kind of goodhearted man who proves the maxim "no good deed goes unpunished," as when he rescues his teenage daughter and her friend from being stranded after a social event, and ends up paying dearly for his devotion. He is plagued by mishaps, but places these as one of the small pieces that compose a life, as if his biography is another physics theorem.
Teresa Mock gives voice to her past self as well as to her father, portraying both in a low-key manner that rules out the notion that there is anything extraordinary about their wide-ranging and often risky times together. Their lives are simply the way things turned out for them, which is the way all lives unspool. When something strikes a deep chordsuch as the various cars that have been part of their history, announced like contestants in the Miss America pageant: "the Granada! the Vega! ..."we are alerted that here is a highlight, but not a turning point. There seem to be no turning points, rather a straight-ahead, continuous journey. Throughout her performance, Mock appears not so much to be "playing" these parts as characters, but remembering them as touchpoints that have brought her to this very day, this very stage.
While Mock holds center stage, sometimes seated in a bleached-out looking webbed patio chair that might have been dragged along to sit gazing at sites of natural beauty on their road trips, a blank screen is frequently inhabited by shadow puppets that offer up landscapes, astronomical phenomena, animals, emblems of war, and other visual adornments. These appear in a low-key manner that never overwhelms the narrative, but provides some adornment and notes of humor and, at times, clarity, to the story. Kristi Ternes designed the stylized puppets, with Alex Clark's lighting design and Skyler Nowinski's sound design adding to the play's atmosphere of vivid memories that reside near the surface of daily life.
The Uncertainty Principle does not present Paul's story in straight narrative, but circles back and forth among episodes from childhood, youth, the war, his early adult years, and the travels with his daughter which seemed to bring him the greatest satisfaction. The circuity of the narrative collects momentum as it progresses, so that by the end we realize that a whole has been created, as when a painter's lines and splashes of color here and there on the canvas converge into a vivid image. Credit must go to dramaturg Heidi Arneson for her part along with Mock in creating this work.
The tenderness between Mock and her father is implicit throughout the play, rather than laid out in heavy strokes, so that we see two people who are ordinary to passersby and extraordinary in their way of processing and composing a life as its component parts are revealed. While my sense is that neither of these peopleTeresa nor Paulare a lot like me, by the end of The Uncertainty Principal I felt sure they move through life, never being able to judge its location and its rate of change at the same moment, exactly as I do, headlong into the uncertainty that awaits us.
The Uncertainty Principle played August 25-29, 2021, at Open Eye Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis MN. Starting September 2, 2021, and through September 30, 2021, the production will be available for streaming online. For information go to openeyetheatre.org or call 612-874-6338.
Created and Performed by: Teresa Mock; Set and Puppet Design: Kristi Ternes; Puppeteer: Kallie Melvin; Light Design: Alex Clark; Sound Design: Skyler Nowinski; Dramaturg: Heidi Arneson.
Cast: Teresa Mock (Teresa Mock, Paul Mock).