No, Broadway’s Heisenberg isn’t some sort of stage retelling of Breaking Bad, or even a biographical tale of famed German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. Instead, it’s a two-person study of what happens when constant movement collides with stillness, when quiet meets non-stop noise, and humor connects with sadness.
Mary-Louise Parker stars as Georgie Burns, a mysterious motormouth of a woman who randomly kisses the back of the neck of a total stranger in a London train station just before the play begins. The lights go up on Georgie apologizing profusely to Alex Priest, played by Denis Arndt. Even though he accepts, Georgie cannot bring herself to walk away. She just. keeps. talking. Eventually, Alex, a creature of habit 33 years her senior, manages to eject.
Their next encounter, when Georgie visits Alex’s butcher shop, follows a similar, almost confrontational pattern. When Georgie asks, “Do you find me exhausting, yet captivating?” there’s no question: Alex and the audience are on the same page. Yet despite their age and their clashing, this ultimately leads to a date. Their perpetual push and pull continues to move the relationship forward until the mismatched pair — whose only true common ground is a respective sadness that’s left them stunted — find a surprising harmony in each other’s company, her selfish chatter becoming gradually more generous, his stillness beginning to vibrate.
Presumably, playwright Simon Stephens, Tony winner for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, named this work for the aforementioned theoretical physicist, whose uncertainty principle is known for having redefined physics, much in the way Georgie and Alex help to redefine each other. The work, directed by Mark Brokaw, kept its team together following a successful off-Broadway run last year. Despite moving to a larger venue, the play is nothing if not intimate.
Parker is as her character describes, “exhausting, yet captivating” — exhausting in that she was in constant motion for the better part of the 80-minute show, her performance as much physical as it is vocal, and captivating in its effortless, heart-wrenching charm. Arndt, too, is exquisite, especially in his subtleties: Even his posture softens as he warms to Georgie and begins to step outside his routines.
Brokaw’s production itself is wisely bare-bones, with just a pair of chairs and two tables making up the set, and a purse or a pillow constituting the props. The emphasis should be on these two opposites finding something intangible that they’re each missing, and any further frills might distract from that. Stephens’ script is jammed with insightful, unforgettable lines. Alex asking, “We hold very different perspectives on experiences we imagine we’re sharing, don’t we?” especially sent a shiver up my spine.
At its core, this is a simple tale of two broken characters who eventually find solace in one another. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The show has just enough comedy sprinkled throughout to keep the audience laughing and leave them with plenty to ponder. Heisenberg may clip by at a brisk 80 minutes, but it undoubtedly lingers. A-