By EUGENE PAUL
Heisenberg gave the world of quantum physics his Uncertainty Principle in 1927:
the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less
precisely its momentum can be known and vice versa. And even though the
Heisenberg name is blazoned as the play’s title, that’s the last of it you will
hear – or see – thereafter. Then, why?
it be because Georgie Burns, the character Mary-Louise Parker inhabits lives
with uncertainty paramount in her days, while Alex Priest, as played by Denis
Arndt, has established certainty for the way he leads his life? Can it be that
Simon Stephens, author of this quirky, unstable exercise has all but demanded
that this is the way things go and devil take the hindmost? And, for certain,
this is the way that director Mark Brokaw stages Stephens’s work, almost to the
point of inscrutability were it not for the all but banal meagerness of a plot
line that would be far easier to follow were it not for the calculated
elaborations of two performances that necessarily exceed the boundaries laid
down, uncertain as they are.
by Joan Marcus
Parker is giving one of her best performances, a highlight of her career, as
Georgie, the slightly lunatic middle aged adolescent who weaves her wiles
around stolid Alex Priest because he looks like a good target and partially
because she can’t help falling for him. She’s that kind of a gal, a self
acknowledged fabulist – she lies alot – who still has lots of bounce although
her life has been a mess. Why else does someone, anyone, walk up to a total
stranger sitting on a bench in St. Pancras train station because he has nothing
better to do and kiss him, even though he’s twice her age? And while this
stranger, a hidebound butcher whose business has withered away, with no
experience in his withered life to handle this outrageous come- on from a
beautiful enchantress succumbs is perfectly apparent, there are conundrums
galore: Denis Arndt is simply too elegant, even in designer Michael Krass’s
clothes, to be Alex Priest, said butcher.
director Brokaw has his two actors playing in a mere strip of space on the
deep Friedman stage with 180 audience members ranked up behind them as well as
a full house out front. Intention: intimacy. Result: confusion. In this narrow
strip, he uses his actors to move the few blue set pieces designer Mark
Wendland supplies as indications of different locales. The uncertainty
engendered by them stepping out of their characters to move some tables and
chairs suits playwright Stephens just fine. He wants us to suss out, oh, now
that’s a café, or, is, oh yes, that’s now a bed – the pillow is a giveaway –
or, where in hell are they now?
Georgie reveals herself more and more to Alex, then beds him, then asks for
$15,000 to go hunt for her missing son in New Jersey, we are constantly
beguiled by her delicious eccentricity even though we don’t feel comfortable
with her as a person, uncertainty after uncertainty, just as unsettling and as
beguiling to Alex. His staidness shifts; he’s revealing unexpected depths, his
wide music interests, his love and facility with the tango. And with both of
them, their language is as unsettling, he’s far more literate than we expect
him to be and she is far more English than American as she really is. Or – is
she? Is he? Is it their creator?
is this just a con? Is she hustling him for the money she needs to search for
her son? Or – hold on – does she really have a son? How much can we believe
her? Can we believe any of the affection she bestows on Alex for what it is?
Or is there that ulterior motive? And is he quite as naïve as his reserve
would suggest? Or does he recognize her for the damaged earthling that she is?
And still – and still—take the chance of new experiences, which equate with
living? Is that, indeed, living? Why, indeed, are we here? Which is just what
playwright Stephens intends: these kinds of questions, the ones we don’t ask
ourselves as we look for certainties.
would make all our experiences of this theatrical experience simply much
better if the actors conveyed their performances to the back rows as well as
the front. Mary-Louise Parker has grown wonderfully in her ability to perform
over the years but that bigness still escapes her. And fine Denis Arndt
plays to her level. They would be wonderful on screen or in a studio. They’re
working at the level of intimacy their director wants, their playwright wants.
But this level of uncertainty is not among the calculations an audience should
bear, Heisenberg principle be damned.
the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Tickets:
$25-$150. 212-239-6200. 80 Minutes. Through December 11.