New York City Theater
Samuel J. Friedman Theater
She’s 42; he’s 75. She’s American, working in London; he’s English, a butcher. They meet by chance (or is it by chance?) at London’s St. Pancras train station when she impulsively kisses him on the back of his neck.
So begins Simon Stephens’ absorbing “Heisenberg,” in which the gifted Mary-Louise Parker gives an uncommonly insightful performance as the quirky, feeling Georgie Burns, with the empathetic Denis Arndt as the sensitive, thinking Alex Priest. Their May-December romance goes beyond the mundane into the unpredictable realm of the heart.
“Music doesn’t exist in the notes,” says Alex. “It exists in the space between two notes.” Like another excellent two-character romance, “Constellations” (also a Manhattan Theater Club production), what happens on earth is but an infinitesimal piece of the cosmos. Georgie, the prevaricating American, is alien to Alex, the self-effacing European. It’s the brash new world vs. the more elegant, shy old world. Yet, they fuse.
Author Stephens doesn’t push the analogy. Having adapted the novel, “The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time” into a Tony winning hit, Stephens knows the pitfalls of being too explicit. After all, nothing much seems to happen in “Heisenberg,” though everything happens.
The title refers to Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle,” which maintains that once an object is observed, it loses its original essence. Turn on a light and what’s being observed is no longer in its pristine state since the illumination has added an element foreign to the object being studied. A chance meeting changes Georgie and Alex from whatever they were (story-telling woman, shy bachelor) into something else.
So it is with the universe and our place in it. “This world is not in fact a world in which people stand up straight on a flat ground,” says Alex. “It’s just a circling, cycling whirl of gravity and matter in space.”
If that doesn’t shrink you, nothing will. Given that thought, what’s strange about a romance, even one with strings, between a 42-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man? Perspectives change, even when we think we’re sharing experiences. And we probably matter little in the larger scheme of things, though a great deal when we come down to earth.
“Heisenberg” is not a plot-filled play nor is its scenic design above bare. But, as directed by Mark Brokaw, who understands its Chekhovian nature, and beautifully acted by Parker and Arndt, it contains multitudes.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct 27, 2016