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Heisenberg Review: Mary-Louise Parker in fake romantic comedy

“Heisenberg” is a play starring Mary-Louise Parker as a wacky 42-year-old American who kisses a 75-year-old stranger on the neck in a London train station, setting off an improbable affair. Rather than the romantic comedy that the two-character play apparently aspires to be, “Heisenberg” is beneath it all a mystery. The mystery is how a team with such track records and talents – playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Punk Rock) director Mark Brokaw (How I Learned to Drive, The Lyons), Parker (Proof, Weeds) — could produce such gibberish.
In the first scene, Georgie (Parker) tells Alex (a blameless Denis Arndt, at age 77 making his Broadway debut) that she mistook him for her dead husband. Alex placidly accepts her apology, listens to her torrent of talk about herself (she tells him how much she enjoys her job as a waitress, etc.), politely responds to her inquiries about his identity – his name, his age, where he works (he’s a butcher.)
In the second scene, Georgie has tracked Alex down to his butcher shop, and tells him that everything she told him about herself in the first scene was a lie – she is not a widow, indeed never married, she’s not a waitress, etc.
The problem in Heisenberg is not that Georgie behaves like an outright psychotic rather than the usual charming eccentrics that Parker plays. Nor is it that Alex doesn’t react with alarm, but rather takes her out on a date and then accepts her invitation to sleep with her. The problem is that, in the six short scenes of this 80-minute play, there is scarcely a line that comes out of the woman’s mouth that sounds like anything anybody would actually say, except for a character contrived for the stage. “Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she says at one point.
Alex fares only slightly better.
“Tell me something. I feel like all I’ve been doing all evening is talking,” Georgie says before she launches into another mini-monologue. Eventually, it’s Alex’s turn.
Alex: I can’t think.
Georgie: Please. Throw me a line. Give me something to hold onto. Surprise me.
Alex: I find this kind of thing a bit tricky.
Georgie: I know.
Alex: Just thinking up things to say. It feels a little random. A little
arbitrary.

Yes indeed. Later, as if to give Alex equal twee time as Georgie, he’s forced to say: “I compose little poems in my head. I’m like a deranged septuagenarian pooh bear.”

What’s left to say about a rom-com in which the most romantic thing the couple does is travel together to Jersey City, New Jersey?

Everything about “Heisenberg,” in short, is fake, including its title, a pretentious allusion to physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, which the playwright obviously doesn’t understand.

Heisenberg’s Off-Broadway run at City Center last summer was sold out. The Manhattan Theatre Club has transferred the show to its larger, Broadway house, the Samuel J. Friedman. It’s still the same bare-bones production, with no scenery, an unadorned table and a couple of chairs; midway through, we’re treated to a pillow. Apparently as a way to compensate for the loss of the City Center’s intimacy, the stage at the Friedman is filled with seats for regular audience members, the actors performing on the lip that’s left. The result is that the two sometimes have their backs to the audience, and mostly perform in profile. The major advantage of this arrangement was that I got to watch some audience members during the show – I thought I spotted the terrific actress Lois Smith in the seventh row. Also, the curtain call offered some amusement, when Parker and Arndt both stuck their rear ends at us.

Heisenberg
Written by Simon Stephens; Directed by Mark Brokaw
Set designed by Mark Wendland, lighting design by Austin R. Smith,
Costume design by Michael Krass, sound design by David Tieghem, choreographed by Sam Pinkleton
Cast: Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $70 to $165
Heisenberg is scheduled to run through December 4, 2016

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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