Review: ‘HEISENBERG’ at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in NYC

Let’s get the title out of the way for starters. Simon Stephens, the author of this play, uses it to remind us that the German physicist Werner Heisenberg introduced his Uncertainty Principle in physics in 1927, and it is used here metaphorically to refer to human relations as well.

Denis Arndt (Alex) and Mary-Louise Parker (Georgie). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Denis Arndt (Alex) and Mary-Louise Parker (Georgie). Photo by Joan Marcus.

The material was staged by the current director, Mark Brokaw, two years ago, in the small Space II of the Manhattan Theatre Club. It starred Mary Louise Parker and Dennis Arndt then, as it does now. It’s a most complex dance not of death, but of life as it is complicatedly lived by two disparate human beings. She (“Georgie”) is a 40 something mother of a son who deserted her; he (“Alex”) is a septuagenarian bachelor  living a quiet and orderly life in a large London house. She spots him waiting in a train station, and intrudes herself upon him for reasons we won’t really discover until these two have come to know each other far better than when they speak their opening lines to each other.

From the start, with the aid of Mary Louise Parker’s fascinating performance, we care to know more about this woman. Denis Arndt’s first response is dismissive but he is intrigued enough to allow this liason to grow at least to another meeting, this time in his London home. There are surprises ahead for these two, thus fulfilling the promise of the play’s title, and we tend to roll along with them, anxious to unravel them because something positive is happening to these two people, and we are rooting for them to ultimately find comfort and perhaps something more from each  other.

Deep into the 80 minute one act play, Georgie begins to admit to some of the lies she has told to help her accomplish her mission as it was originally intended. We are as surprised as is Alex, and his response to one bold revelation is to understand what prompted it, and to move on to the next phase of what is becoming a relationship.

The physical production is so simple it allows us to focus all of our attention on the characters themselves, and Parker and Arndt have created for us two personalities that are composed of much more than we first realized. The audience is divided in the theatre’s space. There are bleachers on stage, filled with eight or ten rows of those, like us, there to watch and listen.

Each of us might have searched for a reason for this — something conceptual or even trivial (those extra hundred seats would increase the box office potential). But at my matinée, the director Mark Brokaw joined us for a post-performance talk back. He told us he had placed those seats onstage merely because they customarily are not there, and he wanted us to begin the evening with the unexpected. For that is all Simon Stephens is after really.  Interestingly enough, his marvelous work as author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time used major mechanical assistance and a large company of actors to tell another tale of the inner workings of a complex personality.

Denis Arndt (Alex) and Mary-Louise Parker (Georgie). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Denis Arndt (Alex) and Mary-Louise Parker (Georgie). Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s to the great credit of Mr. Brokaw, Ms. Parker, and Mr. Arndt (who incidentally is making his impressive Broadway debut at long last after a vital career in virtually all of the regional theatres of the nation). that they so thoroughly fill the needs of the play. Ms. Parker is radiant, in full command, most appealing, and totally convincing playing  a woman who is capable of making us understand and empathize with a character who can say “yes” and “no” in response to  the same question. At one point she asks: “Is this not the strangest thing that two people have ever done in the history of the world?” Well, perhaps not — but it was a privilege to share it with them, to spend some time with two very human human beings.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Heisenberg plays through December 11, 2016 at the Manhattan Theatre Club, performing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre – 261 West 47th Street, in New York City. For tickets, buy them at the box office, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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