Broadway’s Heisenberg Embraces Uncertainty

Broadway’s Heisenberg Embraces Uncertainty

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker (©Joan Marcus)

“Heisenberg,” Simon Stephens’ critically acclaimed play that made its Off-Broadway world premiere last year in a Manhattan Theatre Club production at New York City Center, has now come to Broadway.

The plot seems simple—an animated 40-something American woman, Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) meets a reserved 70-something Irish man, Alex Priest (Denis Arndt) by kissing him on the neck in a London train station. Apologies, introductions and connections are made and then these two seemingly opposite people interact for nearly 90 minutes in a series of chronological scenes that depict the evolution of their relationship. You can take in the whole play for what it is—a contemporary romantic comedy where you can laugh at the characters’ flaws because they are so relatable. But, to paraphrase one of Alex’s lines, if you listen to the play—as opposed to just hear it—you’re likely to pick up more of what Stephens has subtly laid down. It’s not about the notes of the music, but the spaces between them—just as Stephens’ play is as much about the quiet moments as it is his compelling dialogue.

Parker and Arndt are electric in their roles, which makes it easy to see why Georgie and Alex are so drawn to each other. Parker plays Georgie’s wide-eyed and curious side as deftly as she handles the character’s insecurities. She’s got a HERE I AM, WORLD vibe, but also it seems at times Georgie would rather just watch everyone else around her. She’s an observer who wants to be seen and Alex sees her, because he’s an observer too. (He’s content to be by himself and embraces routine.) Arndt allows Alex to breathe, though, and turns what could be a flat character into someone we all want to know more about. The excitement with which Alex rattles off the music he listens to is infectious and it broke my heart a little to think this character had been alone for so long. He may not have been searching for someone to see him, but as an observer I was grateful that Georgie did.

“Heisenberg” is an aptly titled play and is the biggest hint that what you are about to witness is not going to be crystal-clear. Though the play’s title is never uttered on stage, its presence is felt throughout. Named for Werner Heisenberg, the physicist whose uncertainty principle is used to describe things that are observed but cannot be explained using quantum mechanics, “Heisenberg” alludes to the notion that human interactions and relationships are fuzzy… but that that is okay and to be expected and accepted. (Perhaps that is why the main colors we see on stage among wardrobe and props are mostly shades of blue and gray and not black and white…)

When I bought my ticket for “Heisenberg,” I opted for on-stage seating and sat near the top. My seat gave me a great view of the performance, as the actors were often facing the wings or upstage. (Plus, it was just really cool to be seated on stage during a Broadway show.) As all of the action takes place on a strip of stage sandwiched between audience members, “Heisenberg” is an intimate theatrical experience and it soars because of its two gifted actors and inspired direction by Mark Brokaw.

“Heisenberg” officially opens on Thursday, October 13, 2016 and runs through December 11, 2016 at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre at 261 W. 47th St. (btw Broadway & Eighth Avenue). Tickets can be purchased here

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker in "Heisenberg" (©Joan Marcus)

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