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Werner 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?


Can 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.



Photos by Joan Marcus


Mary-Louise 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.


Furthermore, 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?


As 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?


And 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.


It 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.


Heisenberg. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street.  Tickets: $25-$150. 212-239-6200. 80 Minutes. Through December 11.