Thursday, 13 October 2016

HEISENBERG by Simon Stephens

     I'm sure essays will be written on the ways in which Heisenberg's uncertainty principle relates to Simon Stephens' sweet, oddball romantic comedy which, after a sellout run at one of Manhattan Theatre Club's intimate spaces, has moved into its Broadway space. Georgie (Mary-Louise Parker), a forty-something woman who accurately describes herself as "possibly winsome, maybe psychotic," observes, "If you watch something closely enough you realize you have no possible way of telling where it's going or how fast it's getting there." Voila--Heisenberg! In this play by Simon Stephens, one of the two best younger (under 70) British playwrights (Mike Bartlett is the other), we never fully understand Georgie's motivations.
     In eighty minutes HEISENBERG chronicles the beginning of a relationship between Georgie and Alex (Dennis Arndt), a seventy-five-year-old Irish born London butcher. They "meet cute," as Hollywood folks used to say. In a London train station, Georgie kisses the back of Alex's neck. Was this an impulsive act, or did she choose Alex as a mark. Since Georgie prevaricates on a Trumpian scale, we never know with any certainty why she did it or why she appears weeks later at Alex's shop. Yet staid Alex, who has been a lifelong bachelor and who presides over a failing business, is attracted to this chaotic individual. Where can a relationship between an unstable forty-year-old and a stolid, senior citizen go? Well, this one goes to Newark, New Jersey, of all places, but you'll have to see the play--or the movie someone is bound to make out of it (a juicy part for Redford, Nicholson or Eastwood),--to see how and why.
     Much like Mike Bartlett's brilliant COCK, HEISENBERG is presented on a bare stage with minimal props. There are two chairs and two tables that are moved around as needed. The audience surrounds the action (most of the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre is take up by audience seating. The focus is on the words and the actors. I wish I had seen the play in a more intimate space. Mary-Louise Parker has had to turn up the volume on her "winsome" voice in this large space, making her performance seem calculated. Georgie is a perfect part for an actress who has specialized in vulnerable oddballs. I can't imagine anyone else playing it as well. Dennis Arndt seems the perfect foil for Parker. He's all stillness against her chaos.
     This sort of eccentric romantic comedy about the unlikely coming together of two lonely people was once a staple of the commercial theatre and film. Stephens, who, I am convinced, can do just about anything brilliantly, has mastered the genre. Clearly there's a hunger for this sort of charming play. The theatre, with an additional 120 seats on stage, was packed.

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