BWW Review: HEISENBERG Teases Profundity at Pittsbugh Public

BWW Review: HEISENBERG Teases Profundity at Pittsbugh Public

In the lobby before the show, I was amused to spot no less than three middle-aged men sporting the iconic "Heisenberg hat:" a flat, short-brimmed porkpie hat of a sort that went out of fashion more than half a century ago. The hat was brought back to popularity by Breaking Bad, where it is the visual calling card of Walter White's drug-lord alter ego, code-name Heisenberg. I wonder if those men had been misled by the play's title: Heisenberg refers not to Breaking Bad but to enigmatic German scientist Werner Heisenberg and his principle that anything observed too minutely becomes unpredictable, and is impacted by the mere act of observation.

This principle is referenced obliquely, but plays out over the course of Tracy Brigden's minimalist staging, played in the round for the first time in Pittsburgh Public history. Brigden, late of City Theatre, here reunites with frequent collaborator Robin Abramson, and is joined by Anthony Heald, best known as Dr. Chilton through the Silence of the Lambs film series. Given that the play is staged with four benches, almost no props, and little blocking beyond a series of wordy conversations, you'd think Brigden wouldn't have much to play with- but there you'd be wrong, as Stephens's script is deceptively weighty for a show billed as a light romantic comedy.

The play largely concerns a simple meet-cute plot: talkative, overbearing American Georgie (Abramson) becomes fascinated by handsome but quiet Irish senior Alex (Heald) after meeting him on the street. She seeks him out- perhaps even stalks him- and these two very different people slowly bond and come to know each other. But there are wrinkles: first, that Georgie is rather obnoxious at first glance; second, that she is a pathological liar and admits it; third, that there is a thirty-year age difference between these two parties. This is all the first scene, mind you. This is the simple part- it gets complicated from there.

As Georgie, Abramson has a much showier role, and she spends the first half of the show chewing the scenery and joyfully embodying the kooky-bordering-on-unpleasant American single mom. Though the role was originated by Mary-Louise Parker of Weeds and Angels in America fame, it feels like a quintessential Kristin Wiig role, with the same pressured, rapid speech, repetition and immediate, insecure denial of lies and exaggerations as quickly as they can be spoken. It's a tricky role- we have to both come to like Georgie, and understand all the reasons we shouldn't. Luckily, Abramson knows exactly what she's doing, juggling the guileless and calculating moments of Georgie's ups and downs without ever seeming like she's taking a mask on and off. Both Georgies are real. Maybe both are false.

Any actor, even Anthony Hopkins, would feel subdued next to any competent actress playing Georgie (and Abramson is far more than just "competent"), but Heald proves to have a few tricks up his sleeve as well. The show is more a character study than a densely-plotted piece or a narrative-heavy romantic comedy and Heald shows Alex's gradually blossoming complexity with a masterful slowness. Though the man we first see is just another older guy, out for a walk, Heald shows us, piece by piece, a man who is both a young soul and A VERY OLD one. Set in his ways, taking the same walk and operating the same failing business day in and day out, he is nonetheless technologically adept and a voracious consumer of music ancient, modern and cutting-edge. When, in one of the final scenes, his Alex finally changes out of his accustomed clothes into a new outfit, it is both a fantastic punchline and a moment of understated triumph.

There are plays where I can safely discuss some of the nuances of plot, because they are either old or have become established parts of the canon. This is not one of them. Most people have never seen or read Heisenberg, and I had never seen it before to judge if Brigden's take is revelatory or in keeping with other productions. (I do know that the minimal staging, and use of actors as stage hands in full audience view, was also presented similarly in the premiere production.) Instead, I will leave with this statement, and leave audiences to make other decisions for themselves. The official advertising materials from Pittsburgh Public suggest that this is, and I quote "the boy meets girl story [with] a facelift... a new romantic comedy." None of these are lies, or even misdirection. But I'm not sure that's how I would describe this show at all. Perhaps how much you believe the characters in the show will impact how much you can believe the advertising. Don't get me wrong, though- this is fun to me. When was the last time you went to Hamlet and got a surprising comic romp, or got to see Guys and Dolls as a tense erotic thriller? With Heisenberg, as with Werner Heisenberg, uncertainty is everything.

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From This Author Greg Kerestan

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