Heisenberg: Colliding Masterfully
What else is there to say about Heisenberg, the ingenious new Broadway play opening at the MTC, that I haven’t already said before? When I saw it last June 2015, I praised it whole-heartedly (click here for the review). I spoke of its spectacular structure and dialogue; how Simon Stephens has shown us that Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2012) was not a fluke but just a taste of what a genius sounds like. This play though, he is telling us a tale of his own concoction rather than an adaptation of someone else’s brilliant book. And he’s doing what appears to be the thing he is most brilliant at: creating two characters, flawed and difficult, engaging (but sometimes disengaging) in a one-on-one dialogue that is as complex in its emotionality as it is in its simplicity of words. Wastwater, Stephen’s play (written in 2011) that I saw in Chicago last August, is another example of his genius on display when writing two hander-type plays, and here in Heisenberg, that skill has only improved.
Denis Arndt, making his Broadway debut as Alex Priest, stars opposite Mary Louise Parker (Proof, “Weeds”) playing the frustrating but exhilarating Georgie Burns. These two strangers come together to collide and dance an exciting tango with such force, we can’t look away. Parker is exceptional in making Georgie so layered that we are instantly taken. And Arndt shows a quiet yet powerful dignity in his depiction of this surprising man. We watch them bounce off each other, learning more about one, at the possible expense of the other. And in this collision we find Heisenberg; never mentioned but discovered throughout. Previously I wrote: “Werner Heisenberg was a quantum mechanics theorists who put forth the uncertainty principle, which suggests that the more closely one pins down one measurement, the less precise another measurement pertaining to the same particle must become.” This story is the embodiment of his theory.
I was lucky enough to see this play last season in the small black box studio space over at the City Center’s Stage II. It was one of the highlights of the season for me, and in that intimate space, there was an undeniable power and electricity in watching these two ‘particles’ collide. I was very curious initially if they were going to change the intimate staging of the off-Broadway production when it transferred to the Friedman Theatre. I wasn’t quite sure the play needed the earlier design of Mark Wendland, although I loved its simplicity and straightforward engagement. There was no hiding from anyone in this production so would they try to reconfigure what wasn’t broken? The intimacy of the two person play, like last season’s magnificent Constellations, showed us it was possible to have that inescapable intensity between just two characters on that big stage, but when I saw that my seat was in the ‘on stage’ section, I knew that the team had stuck with their previous set-up. Half of me was relieved (because why mess with perfection), but I must admit half of me was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to see the talented director, Mark Brokaw, try to swing a new way of telling this tale of collision from a different perspective. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of those meetings.
Putting that aside, I still can’t say enough about how wonderful it is to watch these two talented actors fall in with each other, but saying anything more would be a disservice. Both Parker and Arndt fit perfectly into the skins of their characters, and as I said in my review last year, Parker must have grabbed this play with both hands and held on, making sure she would play this part somewhere, somehow. And seeing that she is quite the MTC darling (8 productions and counting), they have rightfully given her the chance; both on the small stage last year, and now in their own beautiful Broadway theatre. She doesn’t let MTC, the playwright, or us down. This is a play to not just passively hear, but one to ingest at full strength. As Alex most eloquently explains to Georgie about music, Stephens explain to us, that “it doesn’t exist in the notes” but “in the spaces between the notes.” And boy do those spaces resonate.