I don’t think I could ever write a play.
As I am writing this, my mind lingered over to the possibility of writing for the stage at some point in the future - like, in a part-time Sharr White-esque fashion - and yes, I don’t think I have it in me to do so. Sure, I’ve seen A LOT of shows and have years of writing experience, but, of course, that doesn’t mean I can just up and write the next The Humans. Allow me to bow out and leave the playwriting to the actual professionals.
Heisenberg - playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater - is the show that prompted me to think about playwriting while also confirming that it’s probably not my calling. Like most of the great new plays, I could just never write something like this.
Having seen a few of his works, I figured Simon Stephens to be some sort of writing sorcerer. Not just his adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but Punk Rock was also a gem of layered suspense and shock that spoke about humanity on a larger, more cynical scale.
Heisenberg feels like it exists more in the former’s subverted realism-esque universe, such as, in the very station where Christopher Boone is scrambling to catch his train, he could have walked past the bench where Georgie, an American woman in her 40’s, randomly kisses Alex, an Irish man in his 70’s, on his neck from behind (Heisenberg officially commences mere moments after that). The reason why both worlds felt so (wonderfully) similar to me is that suspending disbelief came organically and it took minimal effort to convince me that all three characters exist in a reality where an exciting adventure awaits them.
That’s quite an achievement given Heisenberg's constructs lend more credence to the fact that Georgie and Alex would probably not engage in further conversation after their initial…ummm, ‘exchange', which can be described as awkward at best or bizarre and creepy at the worst. After maybe 3 minutes of apologies for the misunderstanding and miscellaneous small-talk, it is more than apparent that both individuals aren’t compatible in any regard. She is ditzy and may or may not have lied about her love life and professions (take one guess), while also having an ulterior motive as to why she pursues Alex so vociferously, going as far as visiting him at his butcher shop after their initial not-so-meet-cute. He’s reserved and set in his ways, replying with few words and exhibiting little interest in Georgie during the early-going while she haphazardly stumbles around (physically and verbally) in their interactions.
Several breaks - and set-changes - pepper the run-time, each one indicating a fast-forward in these character’s journeys together, which goes on to include dinner-dates, sex and a full-fledge romantic relationship. As unconventional as it may be, Stephens’ writing nails it over and over again as these two vastly different people build a believable rapport with each other, the age difference and unsuitable natures all aside. The dialogue is funny and pleasant, not to mention, occasionally sad as Georgie and Alex let their guards done to reveal some of the pain they harbor around. And it’s a nice, unstraining thought that two random individuals can meet and establish a bond regardless of whatever, you know...
Like Georgie and Alex’s interest in each other, the audience can’t help but observe and be intrigued as to where things may go. And once the beautiful final scene comes around and after the final fade-to-black, my thoughts began to theorize what is in-store for these characters. Ambiguous (and abrupt) endings can polarize an audience, but Stephens side-stepped a more tantalizing route for something subdued and heart-warming.
The other aspects of this production are all on-point, starting with Mark Brokaw’s primitive, but effective direction. On-stage seating is never not awesome and with a series of risers upstage and with the normal in-house audience with consideration, Brokaw directed the cast and their “tables and chairs” set-up with minimal movement and shape-shifting, with nary a bad angle (as far as I can tell) from either vantage point while also letting Stephens writing and the performers do their stuff.
Mary Louise Parker’s performance as Georgie is delightful and manages to impress in one important regard: as insufferable and occasionally dubious Georgie can be, the audience does more than just tolerate her - we play along and even cheer a little as she wears Alex down. It’s not shocking to hear someone drop the ‘F’ bomb on stage, but Parker’s no-filter, Giggles McAdorable delivery landed every time for some of Heisenberg’s best laughs. Usually, two-character plays don’t have characters like Georgie - I imagine it is out of concern of jumping the shark should the character not land right away (if at all) - but in Parker’s performance, Georgie has many shades to her, so much so, she sustains our attention throughout.
And while Denis Arndt has the more quiet, reactive role between the two, he doesn’t overshoot subtle and wind up being boring. His “quiet, but confident” schtick is perfectly calibrated to offset Georgie’s Georgie-ing, while also crescendo-ing into his final monologue, which Arndt performs with a palpable exuberance without raising his voice all that much.
Manhattan Theatre Club should become the sole proprietor of these two-character handlers (that is, if it isn’t already). The last revival of Collected Stories, Venus in Fur, Constellations, and now, Heisenberg is quite the strong pedigree of shows if you ask me.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus