Playwright Penny Penniston has taken one of the most obtuse concepts of quantum mechanics — the Heisenberg uncertainty principle — and has turned it into a delightful romantic comedy with the appropriate and enticing title of Now Then Again. But it is not a work of fluff, by any means. Its allusions requires that the audience, to fully enjoy its subtleties and nuances, pays very close attention to the dialogue in Act I in order to take full advantage of which transpires in Act II.
The story revolves around Henry and Ginny, two physicists at the Fermi Laboratories, who move forward, then backward, in time in order to fulfill their destiny. Played superbly by Nathan Jerkins as the extremely shy and introverted senior physicist and Megan Rabuse as the young, perky, energetic undergraduate with conflicted personal goals, this production by the Penfold Theatre Company under the direction of Ryan Crowder is lively, face-paced, and totally engaging. The two actors are well matched and exude a chemistry between that is a joy to behold.
In the role of Chris, the man in the middle as Ginny’s fiancé/husband, Matthew Worthington does an excellent job playing the besotted man who just wants to take the love of his life back home to South Carolina and who is confused by her devotion to physics when she says she just wants to be his wife. His Carolinian accent seems quite authentic and adds immensely to his portrayal. It’s a quibble, I suppose, that Ginny does not have a similar accent. After all, the two grew together in the same town; indeed, they were engaged when she was in the sixth grade. I think it was a wise choice, however, to ignore this minutia and let Ginny say her lines in a more Midwestern style.
Dennis Pratt (full disclosure: I have taken acting classes under Dennis) plays the role of Felix, the laboratory’s janitor who doesn’t know physics, but he does know life and love. He feels it’s his role to help Henry achieve his destiny. The onset of his brain tumor is what brings Henry and Ginny together in a way that Penniston artfully and cleverly treats in her play script in a manner almost as if she were solving the crime in a murder mystery. Felix has some of the best lines, and Dennis knows how to deliver them to great comedic effect.
Garry Peters, as Henry’s exasperated boss, and Michael Ferstenfeld, in multiple roles as Musician, Minister, and Rabbi, are making their first appearances with Penfold; and both are excellent additions to the company. Peters is physically imposing, and he was perfect as the department head who has to get Henry to make public appearances. Ferstenfeld added considerably to the poignancy of the production, especially in his role as the cantor at Felix’ funeral.
All of this talent was orchestrated by director Crowder, who also is the Producing Artistic Director of Penfold. There are numerous scene changes in the play, and Crowder used his cast and his lighting designer (Monty Taylor) to advantage in effecting very well choreographed transitions of the simple furnishing and props. The pacing was superb, and the emotional levels of the characters seem appropriate throughout, all of which is, of course, a credit to the director.
There was one negative aspect to the performance. The production is done in the intimacy of the Trinity Street Theatre, set up for about an audience of 60 attendees. So there obviously is no need to shout. But there is still a requirement for the actors to project, and that technique was noticeably absent more than occasionally during the performance I attended.
Now Then Again, presented by Penfold Theatre Company, continues with performances at the Trinity Street Theatre located inside the First Baptist Church of Austin, 901 Trinity Street, Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. now through October 12.