Denis Arndt, Mary-Louise Parker. Photo by Joan Marcus.
By Jill Weinlein, Guest Reviewer
Mark Taper Forum
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Denis Arndt, Mary-Louise Parker
Playing through August 6, 2017
I’ve never seen the Mark Taper Forum stage built out to look almost like a fashion runway, and chuckled when I heard one theatre goer ask an usher “Is the stage always going to look like this?”
Scenic designer Mark Wendland’s stage worked well for the two award winning performers Denis Arndt (Tony nominee) and Mary-Louise Parker (Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner) in Heisenberg. Both reprise the roles they played on Broadway in 2016.
Written by Tony Award and two-time Olivier Award winner Simon Stephens, Heisenberg is set in London and opens on a train platform. The play is named after German Nobel Prize winning physicist Werner Heisenberg, who is known for his contributions to quantum mechanics.
It begins with the house lights on as Arndt and Parker walk onstage. Austin R. Smith’s lighting dims and David Van Tieghem’s distinctive pinging sound alerts the audience to the first scene and others that follow. Throughout the play, Drama Desk Award winning director Mark Brokaw has both characters move the two tables and chairs at each scene change.
Arndt plays Alex Priest a 75 year old butcher who lives a very simple life. He never married and lives alone. This “silver fox” seems an unlikely suitor to Parker’s 42 year old explosive and loquacious Georgie Burns, who befriends Alex after planting a kiss on the back of his neck. Looking for a Sugar Daddy to fund her trip to America, this improbable human connection becomes even more unbelievable when we learn she lies to Alex about her job and marital status, while dropping F-bombs throughout the show.
There is hardly any costume changes by designer Michael Krass, because the cast is onstage the entire show without an intermission. Dressed casually in somewhat neutral colors, I did like Georgie’s shiny black shoes, and found Alex dapper in a denim jacket.
Georgie pursues Alex by visiting his butcher shop after finding it on Google, much to his surprise. Parker has more lines than her co-star and rarely gets any breaks to catch her breath in this demanding role. We learn she talks, because she is afraid of what people will think of her. She knows people will reject her if she stops, just as her 18 year old son did. Georgie tells Alex her son wants nothing to do with her and broke off all connection with his mother by moving to New Jersey.
When Georgie asks Alex to take her out on a date, she calls him a “wily old fox.” After the date, it leads to going back to Alex’s house to sleep together. As Georgie says, “and I don’t mean sleep.” It’s a tender scene and awakening for Alex, causing him to cry. The human connection is dramatic with a pinch of comedic confetti. Georgie asks Alex for money to travel to the United States to find her son. Alex realizes its premeditated from the minute she noticed him on the train platform. Since these two grow a mutual affinity to one another, she feels bad asking. When Alex shows up at her job at a school and insists she take the money, she does with an offer for him to accompany her, “We live once – we can’t go around wasting it.”
At the end, when Georgie and Alex take the trip and can’t find her son, she has so much sadness that she could “fill a well.” She grabs Alex’s hand and they dance together. Holding each other closely, she asks Alex if he would go anywhere with her? When he assures her that he would, you realize that the play is about how these two lonely and unlikely souls, enrich each others life. Knowing someone wants to be with you and share in your life journey is a lot better than living alone.
About Jill Weinlein – Jill graduated from UCLA with a BA in Theater Arts. Besides enjoying West Coast theatrical productions, she writes a weekly restaurant column for the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea newspapers in Los Angeles. Her travel articles are featured in Not Born Yesterday, LuxeBeat Travel and In Travel magazine.
You can follow Jill on her Entertainment blog – www.dineandtravel.me