Unfortunately, I need to preface my review by stating, for a moment, forget the Presidential campaign firestorm over unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances and behavior.
What would you do if you were an older gentleman, just sitting in a train station, and were suddenly kissed on the back of the neck by a younger lady? Would you be outraged? Perplexed? This is how the Broadway play, Heisenberg, a modest, but captivating production, begins. Mary Louise-Parker is Georgie Burns, an American transplant, in her mid-40’s, living in London. Her target, Alex Priest, a 75-year-old butcher, played by Denis Arndt, is flummoxed and bewildered. Georgie, a determined woman who comes across as rather eccentric and kooky, blathers on about her life as well as grilling Alex about his world. Thus begins an oft-kilter connection where unknown truths and motives are revealed, lives are changed and invigorated, and a relationship blossoms.
Playwright Simon Stephens, the author of the immensely popular and stunning adaptation of The Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, has based the show on physicist Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. This states, “there is a fundamental limit to what we can know about the behaviour of quantum particles.“ (http://tinyurl.com/zydeyxc) In this case, it is the uncertainty of the behavior of two very different individuals. Stephens has created two interesting, unique characters. Their idiosyncrasies and traits are strikingly rendered with both performers giving skillful, nuanced portrayals. However, the overall thrust of the production, while bewitching and absorbing, is modest at best.
Mary Louise-Parker and Denis Ardnt deliver two outstanding performances. They are appealing, melancholy, and authentic. In their own way, they both teeter towards a slow revelation of self-discovery and affection. Louise-Parker’s Georgie Burns is an original. An almost non-stop talker with an uncensored palate, the actress breathes genuineness into her unconventional, wounded, and passionate character. Ardnt, for much of the play, is more reactive to his colleague’s prattle. But as he comes out of his self-imposed shell the actor slowly comes alive and more animated. You feel the extreme joy and sometimes pain that he is experiencing.
Director Mark Brokaw, utilizing a set comprised merely of two chairs and two tables, focuses on movement and dialogue. Movement as in little mobility, with each character standing their ground during their verbal confrontations and impasses. This forces the audience to focus on the words tumbling from Georgie’s lips and the staccato responses emanating from Alex. Brokaw has also imbued the actors with polar opposite mannerisms – the more overt gestures and facial expressions of Georgie and the nuanced, stone-like intimations of Alex.
Heisenberg, playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club through December 11th.