Written by Simon Stephens; directed by Mark Brokaw
Performances through December 11, 2016
Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY
|Denis Arendt and Mary-Louise Parker in Heisenberg (photo: Joan Marcus)|
Let us now praise Mary-Louise Parker. Possibly the only actress who can make annoying seem endearing, Parker also has an estimable track record of rescuing inferior plays, such as Dead Man's Cell Phone, the disastrous Sarah Ruhl comic drama from several seasons back that Parker saved with her miraculous ability to be immensely charming and kookily funny, however ridiculous the material.
Heisenberg is another case in point. This mendacious two-hander follows the unlikely romance between a goofy 42-year-old American woman and a stolid 75-year-old British man (it would have been more interesting the other way around), who meet cutely at a London train station, reconnect even more cutesily at his butcher shop, and begin a physical and emotional coupling that has to be seen to be disbelieved.
Playwright Simon Stephens spends much of his play’s 80-minute running time flailing around, hoping that anything that he crams into his play—no matter how illogical or risible—will provoke a response from the audience. But the strain shows in his very title, the eponymous German physicist who coined the Uncertainty Principle.
But Heisenberg doesn’t so much demonstrate the Uncertainty Principle as it does the Anything-Goes Principle as Georgie Burns (obnoxious and irritating from the start) lies and wheedles her way into Alex Priest’s good graces by, basically, badgering him: She’s the prototypical Trumpian bully.
Stephens’ dialogue has its occasional bite or amusement, but then there are those long stretches when it doesn’t. After they first have sex, here’s what they say to each other:
GEORGIE: Move over. Thank you. Are you okay?
ALEX: I am yes.
GEORGIE: Ha. Me too. Me three. Me four. Me five. Me six. Me a million. I like sex. Don't you?
ALEX: I do. You know. I really do. I do. I do.
GEORGIE: I like your bed.
ALEX: Thank you.
Later, after they leave London for New Jersey to track down her supposedly estranged son, here’s a snippet of their conversation:
GEORGIE: It’s stopped raining.
ALEX: Yes. I like this spot. The Hackensack. What a completely brilliant name for a river. I like words that have their own little rhyme in. And I like that bridge. That is a remarkable bridge.
GEORGIE: The Pulaski Skyway.
ALEX: The Pulaski Skyway.
A little of this goes a very long way, and Heisenberg outstays its welcome very quickly. Director Mark Brokaw doesn’t do much more than have his performers occasionally move the odd chair or table that make up the bulk of the set design (as per Stephens’ specific stage directions). Brokaw has also put bleachers on the stage behind the performing space so that there are essentially two audiences watching this uninvolving romance unfold. It’s sometimes more entertaining checking out how others are reacting to what’s going on.
Poor Denis Arendt has little to do—he mainly reacts to whatever new lunacy Parker’s spouting—and does it solidly if unimaginatively. Parker is a theatrical treasure, making every silly retort or full-throated obscenity that comes out of her mouth so ingratiating that she makes us believe that this possibly insane woman could charm an average old man into bed. Well, almost.