From the minimalist staging to the sparse sound design, everything is stripped back in director Mark Brokaw’s production of Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg – entirely focusing us on the words and the performances of Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt.
After premiering off-Broadway last year, Heisenberg has arrived at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre and rearranged the furniture. Raked seating added to the stage creates a narrow traverse on which Georgie (Parker) and Alex (Arndt) approach each other across the gulf of two very different lives.
Starting with Georgie’s seemingly spontaneous kiss on the back of Alex’s neck, a stranger in a train station, the play initially feels like a kooky rom-com. But as Georgie’s torrent of quirky chatter shades into something sharper and more ambiguous, so, too, does the production.
Parker’s off-beat spikiness is the riff on Arndt’s more measured delivery (and wandering Irish accent). If she’s almost too much to begin with, it’s deliberate. Georgie is constantly role-playing. Their relationship – which complicates the yawningly prevalent young woman-old guy Hollywood stereotype – is a slippery, bruised thing.
Heisenberg was one of the fathers of quantum physics, and Stephens borrows from this field the idea that the way things appear depends on the observer. Alex and Georgie are grappling with loneliness – either (in Georgie’s case) by making up stories or, for Alex, re-living memories.
There’s something generously honest in Heisenberg about ordinariness. With humour and a low-level ache of sadness, it tunes into those small, often overlooked encounters that can spin people’s lives off in new directions.