BWW Review: Captivating HEISENBERG Lands at the Taper
After a successful run in New York, off and on Broadway, Simon Stephens' curiously captivating Heisenberg takes a bow at the MTF through August 6 with its two stars Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker still on board.
The time is the present. Alex Priest (Arndt) and Georgie Burns (Parker) meet by accident - or do they? - in a train station in London. She starts chatting a mile a minute as he listens practically in complete silence. Both are terribly lonely souls, as it turns out. At first glance, Georgie tells Alex That she is an assassin and laughs if off claiming to be a waitress. Later she confesses to being a receptionist in a school. He truthfully tells her he's a butcher. She had a brief unhappy marriage to a philanderer and had a son by him, whereas Alex never married. The fascinating thing about this play is that we do not know what is fact. Georgie is a terrible liar and she may have had a motive for 'bumping into' Alex in the first place. To make a long story short plotwise Georgie and Alex gradually find that they are atracted to each other in spite of their age difference - he's 71 and she's 33 - and go to bed. After spending the night, Georgie asks Alex for some money so she may set out on a quest to find her son in New Jersey. When he asks her when she decided to ask for the money, just then or at the very beginning of their relationship, she responds "while I was downstairs in the kitchen". In spite of the glorious evening they have just spent together, Alex feels guilt and mistrusts. And we, the audience, do not know whether to believe anything Georgie has said.
Simon Stephens really knows how to dig deeply into character and still keep the reader guessing. Although Georgie may be a pathological liar, we see a childlike naivete in her that is absolutely precious. We enjoy being victimized by her, as does Alex who hasn't slept with a woman in many years. She seems to be replenished; he definitely springs back to life and finds new meaning with some hope of moving forward. Georgie, with all her complexities, has provided him with a chance to grab onto life and change. Alex is a kind, thruthful, loving man. He knows how to comfort Georgie and she, in her sometimes brash over grown childlike manner, is learning maybe more than she bargained for. Where does it all end? Stephens leaves the ending to the audience. We must decide what is truth and what is fiction.
But oh what a lovely ride under the stellar direction of Mark Brokaw and with such giving performances from Arndt and Parker. Parker amazes at every turn. At one moment she is frolicking in bed after sex, so we are convinced that her after glow is sincere and joyous. Then later when she confesses to Alex That she stayed up the rest of the night, found his diaries and read them, she, in everyone's eyes, becomes the object of suspicion and almost unlikable. Parker, however, never allows us to dislike Georgie. Her upbeat joy is stimulating in a terrific performance. Arndt makes Alex an honest, caring individual that we come to accept as the only block of reality. One beautiful moment among many is a dance that Georgie teaches Alex. They are in step, in tune, and in spite of the ambiguity of their bonding, there is a glimmer of happiness.
The title Heisenberg, by the way, was the scientist Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, which suits the play's structure, atmosphere and message to perfection. There is no real set design, though Mark Wendland is credited. The stage is raked so that audience sit in front and behind the actors. When we look at the actors, we can also see audience on the other side of them. This puts focus not only on the action but on the reality of where we are and what is or may be going on. Costumes by Michael Krass are ordinary streetwear for comfortable weather. Arndt changes, sometimes wearing a jacket; Parker, on the other hand, wears jeans and one short sleeve blouse throughout, adding another touch of mystery to her character.
Go see Heisenberg through August 6 at the Taper! It's unpredictable from start to finish and makes you think wholeheartedly about what defines a good relationship. Live theatre at its best!
(photo credit: Craig Schwartz)