Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

HeisenbergMark Taper Forum
Review by Sharon Perlmutter

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Forget the meet cute, Heisenberg is all about the meet awkward. In a handful of scenes in its 80-minute running length, we follow the beginnings of an unusual relationship, which starts with a misunderstanding—or not (more on that later).

It seems that, right before the action started, Georgie (Mary-Louise Parker) approached Alex (Denis Arndt) at a train station and kissed him on the back of his neck. (The action takes place in London, so Alex's response is amused curiosity, not a punch for invading his personal space.) But it was an honest mistake; Georgie mistook Alex for someone else. Her explanation doesn't hold up well under Alex's questions. She mistook him for someone she had not expected to see at the train station; in fact, she mistook him for someone who was dead. Alex doesn't really pursue why, exactly, Georgie's response to seeing someone she thought dead would be a peck on the neck.

To be fair to Alex, it's pretty hard to keep Georgie to a single line of thought. Words and ideas seem to bubble out of her uncontrollably. Parker stands awkwardly, and makes her voice's volume and pitch change seemingly at random. The overall initial picture of Georgie is of a social misfit who may or may not be mentally impaired. But she isn't odd enough to turn Alex off; he's generally patient and understanding, and doesn't try to extract himself from the encounter until long after most of the rest of us would.

But Google is a wonderful thing, and Alex has given Georgie enough information about himself to enable her to hunt him down at his place of work, to continue their conversation. And at this point we learn that one of Georgie's most engaging characteristics is that she lies. She lies about herself. She lies about her history. She just genuinely enjoys lying—and she isn't lying about that.

The title of the play is a bit misleading; there isn't very much physics going on here. Each character has an occasional tendency to describe human relations (Georgie) or music (Alex) in ways scientists sometimes describe particles, but thats mostly it. I imagine one could speculate that the play is an attempt to represent Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle with a character whose words say one thing and her actions another—but if the play had a different title, I doubt it would lead any audience members thoughts in that direction organically.

Which is not to say that Parker's Georgie is uninteresting. At one point in the play, Alex asks her a question of vital importance to whether their relationship can move forward. Answer one way and it's all good; answer the other and they have no chance at a future. And Georgie responds annoyingly, and beautifully, with both answers, one right after the other. She vacillates between the two repeatedly, and Parker manages to convey that Georgie simultaneously believes both are true.

Arndt's Alex, for his part, is interesting for being upwards of 30 years older than Georgie. It isn't just that he's been around longer than her; it's that his added years of experience give him a different perspective. He speaks openly and honestly about things generally unspoken. But his age may have made him think he was no longer a romantic prospect for a woman of Georgie's years, and it does not take long for him to be willing to see where this goes.

But that's pretty much all there is to it. Simon Stephens's play comes off as the latest entry in what seems like an endless parade of two-character, minimal set, single-act plays which dominate regional theatres unable to afford big productions. At the Taper, with Broadway cast intact (and seating in the round added), Los Angeles is getting a good look at it before it is performed on every stage in town. But when all is said and done, Heisenberg is a straightforward will-they-or-won't-they endeavor about people who aren't quite right, but might possibly be right for each other.

Heisenberg runs at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles through August 6, 2017.

Center Theatre Group—Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Stephen D. Rountree, Managing Director; Douglas C. Baker, Producing Director—presents the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Heisenberg by Simon Stephens. Scenic Design Mark Wendland; Costume Design Michael Krass; Lighting Design Austin R. Smith; Sound Design David Van Tieghem; Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis; Choreographer Sam Pinkleton; Casting Nancy Piccione; Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller; Production Stage Manager James FitzSimmons. Directed by Mark Brokaw.

Alex Priest: Denis Arndt
Georgie Burns: Mary-Louise Parker

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