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Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker.  Photo Joan Marcus

Denis Arndt and Mary Louise Parker.   Photo Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Romance meets physics in Simon Stephens' Heisenberg, a Manhattan Theatre Club quirky two-hander at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.  Whether or not love and physics turns out to be a believable match, however, is up to you. 

Stephens, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, chose a title that refers to German physicist Werner Heisenberg's "uncertainty principle," stating that you cannot accurately measure the position and momentum of a subatomic particle at the same time.  This theory reappears occasionally during the evolving day and night romance between Georgie Burns, a flaky 42-year-old American expat (Mary Louise Parker) and Alex Priest, a 75-year-old butcher (Denis Arndt in his Broadway debut).   

They are two strangers in a train station and Georgie has just kissed the back of Alex's neck.  Physically and vocally expressive, Georgie is full of apologies and questions most of which she answers herself.  Alex, a reticent Irishman, is wary of this stranger's non-stop chatter her eccentric mannerisms.  So where do we go from here? 

There is something stalker-like when she shows up the next week at Alex's butcher shop, admitting, "I think it’s probably best if you assume that everything I told you when I saw you last week was a complete fabrication. I love it. Making things up."  Alex does not know what to make of Georgia.  "Do you find me exhausting but captivating?" she asks him.  Still, as mismatched as they are, her loquacious prattling eventually begins to melt his reserved wariness and the fact of their shared loneliness emerges.  She has an estranged son who does not want to see her.  Alex has a lost love and has given up all hope for a loving relationship.  They are drawn together for dates, dinner, dancing and sex. 

It is tempting to revise previous perceptions of these characters during the 80-minute play.   As they reveal the secrets of their lives and their relationship shifts,  surprise alterations begin to make sense although there is always a believability factor in the shadows.  What is Georgie is really after?  Is this a ending really happily-ever-after?  Is this even love or is it support, and does that matter?

Mary Louise Parker, a Manhattan Theatre Club favorite, delivers her familiar quirkiness, painting Georgie's wild, erratic mannerisms with a slice of vulnerability.  You may find her captivating but her self-involved chatter is definitely exhausting.  As Alex, the bland, suppressed butcher who takes long walks through London and dances the tango, Denis Arndt's finely drawn performance defines him with warmth and likeability as he eventually revitalizes himself during their affair.  

Mark Brokaw smartly directs this unusual spring/winter romance on a bare-bones stage designed by Mark Wendland with few props to move around.  The actors are descriptively dressed, loose and casual, by Michael Krass's plain, well-worn clothes.  You have to feel good when Alex spontaneously buys himself a denim jacket, a big long in the sleeves but wearing it makes him feel young and enthusiastic.

Heisenberg appeared last year in the compressed Off-Broadway City Center Stage II with the same cast.  The intimate story demanded a similar intimacy for its Broadway transfer.  The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre does the job with the addition of onstage stadium seating that provides a runway for this deceptively slight study of love and "uncertainty." 

This review also appears in

Samuel J. Theatre
261 West 47th Street, NY
Previewed: Sept 20, 2016. Opening: Oct. 13, 2016  Closing: Dec. 11, 2016
Manhattan Theater Club
Written by: Simon Stephens
Directed by: Mark Brokoaw
Running time: 80 minutes
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors