If the name “Heisenberg” has frightened you into thinking this is a dense play about quantum mechanics, never fear. It is, rather, about the most everyday of occurrences: two dissimilar people getting to know each other and determining the substance of their relationship. Like protons, can they come together to form something bigger and more powerful? And if they do, what is the potential for that configuration to change?
The series of somewhat commonplace conversations about life, work, and love is made compelling by two gifted actors: Denis Arndt as Alex and Mary-Louise Parker as Georgie. The disparity in their ages is the least significant of their differences. I had heard about their incredible chemistry, but that’s not the word I would use to describe their bond. What flashes between them struck me as more skillful than emotional, like trapeze artists who know exactly when to extend their arms even when there is no music. There is much communicated in a simple smile or touch. But it is absorbing artistry, not as impassioned as I expected.
The slow-burn of personal revelations is pepped up with flashes of humor and provocative uncertainty. Simon Stephens, who so brilliantly adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, has here provided a simple dialogue with a intriguing angle. We learn fairly early on that Georgie can tell a convincing and detailed lie. That makes everything she says and does suspect, even when she’s admitting to lying. It’s a tribute to the characters’ development — their ultimate sweetness and vulnerability — that I found myself wondering for days whether the key turning points of their journey together stemmed from genuine crisis or Georgie’s well-constructed (possibly dubiously motivated) flights of fancy.
Heisenberg was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club and played off-Broadway last summer at City Center. Within its new Broadway home, director Mark Brokaw has recreated the proper space for his intimate yet significant production, greatly reducing the size of the stage by placing 200 members of the audience in seats on the stage. The feeling is more of a small town sports arena than a professional New York theater, which is no doubt intentional. With limited room to move, the two actors can’t help but confront each other at every turn. in action as well as in word. Outlines of locations from a train station to a butcher shop to a hotel room are defined by scenic designer Mark Wendland using folding tables and chairs. Scenic beats are created with Austin R. Smith’s lighting and David van Tieghem’s sound.
Three of the closest people in my life I met randomly through uncharacteristic circumstances. So it is not a surprise that the underpinnings of Heisenberg resonated with me. If you, too, know that experience of a chance encounter that alters your life or you simply enjoy seeing potential unfold between strangers, then you will find Heisenberg an engrossing way to spend 80 minutes. It is playing through December 11, 2016 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. For tickets and information visit http://heisenbergbroadway.com.