“Heisenberg” opened in Los Angeles this week at Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum after an acclaimed Broadway run last year. The play’s title reference to physicist Werner Heisenberg may lead people to expect something cerebral or complicated. However, rather than science, “Heisenberg” offers a simple love story, albeit a quirky older-man-meets-middle-aged-woman version featuring Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker.
Written by Tony and Olivier Award winner Simon Stephens, “Heisenberg” looks at how two unlikely people can impact each other’s lives in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Theatre Club’s production is being presented as part of Center Theatre Group’s 50th Anniversary Season and will be at the Taper through August 6, 2017.
Not Exacting a Meet-Cute
The show begins with Georgie (Parker) encountering Alex (Arndt), a much older man, at a London train station. This life-changing encounter thrusts these two strangers into a verbal, and sometimes comical, sparring match.
Alex is a 75-year-old isolated British butcher, whose life has been a lonely, monotonous slog from day to day. He rarely speaks to anyone, even in his largely vacant shop. So, early in their first encounter, Alex abruptly asks Georgie, “Why are you talking to me?” She later compares him to Europe “cause it’s old,” which she meant as a compliment.
Georgie is a mercurial 42-year-old American whose adult son has rejected her and returned stateside. Clearly lonely too, she is alternately grating, charming, deceitful, and playful. As she notes, “In the end, I do know that people will reject me so I try to behave in a way than just speeds up the whole process.” She acknowledges later on that she wants their encounter to be different, largely because of his eyes.
The aggressive Georgie spins the Alex’s life off its predictable course, presenting the possibility of romance and reengagement with the world. Her reasons for doing so remain uncertain, and she seems to be a grafter taking advantage of his loneliness. However, the affection grows as their protective layers are peeled off with their chatter and word play (At one point, she calls his choice of word “hyperbolic.”).
Uncertainty Principle Embodied
The pairing in the Broadway hit’s quirky love story is unlikely. But, in many ways, it illustrates Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which proposes that there is a limit to how much can be known about two variables. Many attendees will undoubtedly not get the significance of the title in the bumpy ride the characters take them on. However, Alex spells out importance of acknowledging differing viewpoints, stating at one point, “We hold very different perspectives on experiences we imagine we are sharing, don’t we?” After all, it is a play that celebrates randomness and the need to affect other humans, i.e. the uncertainty of life.
Arndt and Parker have played their parts for about two years, first off-Broadway, then on and now in L.A. In fact, the cast (just the two!), director (Mark Brokaw), and other creative elements moved West intact. This includes a no-frills set arranged with audience members on all four sides that consists of two chairs, two tables, and a pillow.
Basically, Parker and Arndt are the focal points. He is fabulous in the role, as the Tony nomination he received for Lead Actor in a Play acknowledged. Parker, on the other hand, was at times hard to understand early on. (It could have been nerves opening night in L.A., but she has done the show for so long). Her character is not exactly lovable. However, Parker built a career largely on imperfect and annoying, but cute characters (e.g., leading lady Nancy Botwin in “Weeds”). She keeps Georgie from being too exasperating with her ability to earnestly bounce from doubt to sexiness, and then to anxiety in minutes and take the audience along for her ride.
While a former Broadway hit, “Heisenberg” is not a memorable or weighty play. Luckily, the quirky character connection in this unrealistic love story makes it an enjoyable evening of theater in L.A.. Additionally, the fact that the production is 80 minutes with no intermission keeps the characters and their uncertainty principles from wearing out their welcome.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance July 6, 2017
Center Theatre Group Brings Highly Acclaimed Manhattan Theatre Club Production of “Heisenberg” to Los Angeles Completing 50th Season at the Mark Taper Forum
Los Angeles Times: An overnight sensation after 45 years in the biz: Denis Arndt, Mary-Louise Parker’s co-star in ‘Heisenberg’
Photo by Craig Schwartz of Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.” Courtesy Center Theatre Group and © 2017 Craig Schwartz