By Meredith Ganzman (@MGanzman)
Germs and fear, rather than romance, are likely to spread by surprise and an unfamiliar kiss at a train station. Consider it a perfect and cruel way to frighten someone this Halloween season, and a beginning to the dark and romantic Heisenberg by Tony Award-winner Stephen Simon. Alex Priest, a butcher, and Georgie Burns, a receptionist at a school, meet by chance at King’s Cross Station in London, when she kisses him on the neck.
It’s Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics that informs and also titles the play—that you can, at most, “calculate probabilities for where things are how they will behave.”
Denis Arndt (Priest) and Mary-Louise Parker (Burns) begin on stage before the lights have even gone down, likely taking the audience seated on stage (additional seating set on risers), by surprise. Arndt, 77, is making his Broadway debut, and Parker returns to Broadway for the first time since 2013’s The Snow Geese.
It’s hard to say what, besides a kiss, brings these two characters together. Burns, spastic and much younger than Priest, says she has a complete inability to control her own language—an exhausting, yet captivating, combination for Priest.
Still, Priest agrees to go on a date with Burns after she surprises him again days later at his butcher shop. And despite his best effort, as two tables on stage come together to form a bed inside his home, Priest may be falling in love with Burns.
As Priest tries to surrender to his feelings, he realizes, “the older I get I have to say the more aware I am of how very brief everything is.” It is perhaps this ephemerality for which we have to see Heisenberg, knowing little of Georgie and Alex’s stories before they met and how, or if, they will continue.
They are an unlikely and arguably entertaining pair. But that’s less to do with Stephens’ script. Credit is more due to Parker and Arndt, who returned to the play after its off-Broadway run last year. Parker’s “Georgie,” indeed exhausting in her neurosis, alongside Arndt still charms. And although Arndt is making his Broadway debut so late in life, we are lucky to see him there now.
Even with the two talents onstage, you may not know where the couple’s future is headed, according to the Heisenberg principle, it’s even less certain who will care once the lights come up.
Heisenberg is directed by Mark Brokaw and plays from the Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater through December 11.