They meet “cute” at a train station when she, out of the blue, kisses his neck. That this overt and intrusive act and her offhand cursing don’t repel him surprises and intrigues him. His curiosity to find out more about this younger, foul-mouthed cutie-pie outweighs any doubts.
The play takes place mostly in London. Georgie Burns, Mary-Louise Parker’s character, can only be described with the now rarely used term kooky, while Alex Priest, totally inhabited by Denis Arndt, is a lonely, uptight, well off butcher who lets Georgie’s charm work its magic on him as she insinuates herself into his life.
Originally staged in 2015 with the same cast in the tiny Stage II theater of the Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center, there was some doubt that this intimate, moving human chess game would work in the more expansive Samuel J. Friedman Theatre which has been totally transformed. Having seen the original production, I can honestly say that nothing is lost in the transition.
The mezzanine seats now rise on the Friedman stage, placing the audience on either side of a narrow platform on which all the action takes place. Mark Wendland’s minimalist set—just a few piece of furniture moved about by the actor—Michael Krass’ simple costumes, David Van Tieghem’s environmental soundscape and Austin R. Smith’s lighting turn the Friedman stage into a concentrated space from which exudes the most subtle and the most exuberant emotions. Georgie and Alex explore each other’s psyches.
Georgie spins yarns about her life. How truthful these stories are is difficult to ascertain. In this role, Ms. Parker is superb. Alex is perfectly content with his life except for the loneliness and the pain that rears up when he least expects it. His sad memories and his love of music help keep him going.
The two become interdependent with Georgie taking advantage of Alex, using him to take a trip to New Jersey (U.S.A) to find her mythical son. Is Georgie scamming Alex? Probably, but Mr. Stephens’ writing is so exquisitely nuanced, and Ms. Parker’s multitiered emotions so real she never comes across as evil. Mr. Arndt’s Alex is never the sucker letting his desire for this younger woman affect his behavior without being totally in control.
The title is a reference to physicist Werner Heisenberg whose quantum mechanics “uncertainty principle” purports that there is a limit to assessing the physical properties of sub-atomic particles. If a particle’s position is known, its momentum
cannot accurately be calculated and vice versa. If one assumes Georgie and Alex are these metaphorical particles, observing the ups and downs of their emotional and physical jousting continually takes unpredictable, refreshing twists and turns.
At 77, Mr. Arndt is making his Broadway debut. Watching his Alex transformed from a man emotionally hobbled by his inner emotional baggage into someone who allows himself to enjoy life again is a privilege. Ms. Parker has never been better.
Mark Brokaw has directed Heisenberg with a total understanding of the twists and turns of Mr. Stephens’ agile writing.
Heisenberg (through December 11, 2016)
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
For more information, visit http://www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission