Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Relationships, especially in their early stages, have something in common with theoretical physics. Results defy predictions, and the perspective of the observer influences the outcome of the experiment. At least, that’s what Simon Stephens seems to have had in mind when he named his quirky new two-hander after the father of the Uncertainty Principle. For all that, HEISENBERG doesn’t delve as deeply as it should into the subatomic particles of the human psyche. But its endearing protagonists and seasoned cast still provide enough to satisfy audience who seek lighter fare.
At a crowded London train station, American divorcee Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) walks up behind septuagenarian Alex Priest (Denis Arndt) plants a kiss on his neck. She claims to have mistaken him for someone else. Like many things Georgie will say through their relationship, this may or may not be true. Either way, the ice has been broken and a kind of courtship follows. Sounding more like the Many Worlds Interpretation than any of Heisenberg’s theories, bubbly Georgie does tells numerous different versions of her life story. Alex, courteous but reticent, reveals little more than the fact that he’s single and makes his living as a butcher. That’s enough information for Georgie to go on, she shows up a few days later at his shop. At first Alex feels rattled by the unexpected visit, but Georgie’s charm and onslaught of chipper chatter wears down his resistance. Putting aside his concerns about their age difference, he agrees to take her out to dinner. The date goes well and sex follows. It’s only after the lovemaking that Georgie comes out with a disturbing request. She’s in trouble, or so she says, and needs financial help. Alex begins to wonder begins if all her little fibs are indicative of a more serious tendency towards dishonesty. Perhaps he’s nothing more to Georgie than an easy mark, her attraction to him a cynical sham. Alex, rusty after years of solitude, is torn between two daunting options. If he gives the relationship another chance, he risks getting hurt. If he lets her go, he’ll probably spend his twilight years alone. After a bit of soul-searching, he musters the wherewithal to do the right thing.
Arndt and Parker are well matched as a duet. His gentle baritone, inflected with a trace of Irish brogue, is an apt compliment to her nasal American coloratura. Their unflagging authenticity, seemingly spontaneous, is clearly the product of exhaustive exploration. Stephens endows his characters with intelligence and curiosity that elevate the show above more commonplace portrayals of May-December romance. His language is especially effective when illuminating the odd insights known only to people who spend a lot of time alone: lyrical corners of the world most people don’t take the time to notice. Plot-wise, though, the play’s dramatic stakes could stand to be raised considerably. Georgie and Alex seem more in like than in love, resulting in an evening of theater that is more pleasant than it is riveting. It would be intriguing to see Stephens apply his considerable skills to a more probing look at the challenges two people face when struggling to find a common language — especially in a world where, to quote the play’s namesake, “the reality we can put into words is never reality itself.”
HEISENBERG continues through December 10, 2016 at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre,
261 West 47th Street, New York, NY. Tickets: http://www.telecharge.com /Broadway/ Heisenberg/ Overview