Mary-Louise Parker And 'Heisenberg' Take Quantum Leap From Broadway To The Taper Forum
Before she gained national recognition on the hit TV show Weeds, Mary-Louise Parker was one of New York's most distinguished theater actors, winning a Tony Award for her lead performance in Proof and nominations for her work in two plays by Craig Lucas, in addition to originating the lead role in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive off-Broadway.
By contrast, Denis Arndt—Parker's co-star in the original production of Heisenberg, which has now moved into the Mark Taper Forum—made his Broadway debut in this role at the age of 77. While it may seem that the actors come from different worlds, they both share an overwhelming charisma, and it's one of the main reasons to see this May-December romance by playwright Simon Stephens.
Parker's Georgie Burns is a vivacious American woman in her early 40s who has just impetuously kissed Alex Priest, a 75-year-old stranger, played by Arndt, sitting on a bench in a London train station as the play begins. Not quite indignant at this brash gesture, Alex lets Georgie chat him up for a while, mentioning in response to her inquiry about his job that he's a butcher in town, though he declines to let her know where, exactly, he works. Still, just knowing his name and his profession is enough for her to track him down on Google and show up unbidden at his shop five days later to continue her insistent questions about his past and present life, and to solicit him to take her out on a date. Alex tries to be cagy about it, but he hardly resists her advances.
The play is named after early 20th century Nobel Prize-winning German physicist Werner Heisenberg, most famous for introducing the uncertainty principle into quantum mechanics. Neither Heisenberg nor his work is ever mentioned or alluded to by either character in the 80 minutes we spend with them, so we may speculate that Stephens intends for us to understand that their relationship exemplifies or illustrates the scientist's ideas about the unpredictability of our course through the universe. It strikes us, however, that this human condition underlies most viable works of drama, and isn't any more intrinsic to this burgeoning love story than other works.
Parker and Arndt's stellar performances imbue Heisenberg with a soulful depth that its schematic text often only gestures toward. Over the play's six scenes, Parker illuminates Georgie's relentless audacity in pursuing Alex, and in doing so reveals her desperate need for his support. As for Arndt, his initial stiffness toward Georgie later unspools into a hard-earned free-spiritedness, one that a life of situational disappointment and insularity has, counter-intuitively, enabled him to develop.
Before its run in a big Broadway house, Heisenberg premiered in a 150-seat theater, which is probably a more natural habitat for this piece than the much larger Mark Taper Forum (reconfigured for this production with additional seats up close to the stage). Prodigiously accomplished director Mark Brokaw and his smart design team allow the action to fill the room, but the scientific principle the play's title alludes to (which describes the close observation of microscopic particles) becomes obscured in the fishbowl of a larger theatrical viewing space.
Heisenberg plays eight times a week at the Mark Taper Forum through August 6 (Mary-Louise Parker will not be performing August 4-6.) Full-price tickets $49.50-$110 online ($45-$100 at the box office); discount tickets $78.75 and $56.25 available for some performances on Goldstar.