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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
HEISENBERG
at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

THE SCIENCE OF ATTRACTION
By DAVID COTE

  Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It’s not exactly love at first sight in Simon Stephen’s contrived relationship drama: more like puzzlement and unease. Quirky, fortyish American Georgie (Mary-Louise Parker) plants a kiss on the back of the neck of Irish butcher Alex (Denis Arndt) in St Pancras Station one night. Did she mistake him for someone else? Was it really a mistake? Although Alex is single and Georgie is pretty, the man is more taken aback than titillated. Who is this strange woman, and what does she want with me? Add in the fact that he’s 75 and not looking for a girlfriend, and you’ve got a fairly unconventional romance full of mysterious blanks.
 
Would that filling the blanks over the next 75 minutes were more exciting. Director Mark Brokaw’s bare-bones production puts the emphasis on the characters’ softening into each other over a series of scenes as they enter into a wary affair, but Stephens’ script is all daring premise, little depth. He’s a thinking person’s Neil LaBute: great at cranking out pungent, humorous dialogue, but the scenes don’t really generate dramatic heat, just the noise of a couple of ideas banging into one another. That idea presumably is, no matter your age, you can be changed by another person. “People worry far too much about what they are, you know,” Alex observes toward the end. “They should be thinking about what they do.” Action matters more than intention, which is a provocative notion when it comes to love, I suppose. When Georgie seems to indicate she could use money, you begin to think, Aha! It’s all a con; she wants a sugar daddy. For better or worse, Stephens is too canny and restless a writer to let that assumption rest. Then again, dramatizing a bona fide arrangement between an older man and a kept woman might be more interesting than wistfulness, clever one-liners and ambiguity. (I would try to explain what the play has to do with German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg and his “uncertainty principle,” but I am trying to cut down on my Wikipedia plagiarism.)
 
Arndt (an American doing a very persuasive Irish lilt) is new to me, and he’s a warm, sensible, manly presence. Parker, on the other hand, is distractingly mannered. True, she’s always mannered – “adorably nutty” is her forte – but for some reason she decided to affect a lisping vocal delivery with a hint of mush-mouth. It makes her sound either a little slow or demented. Maybe she’s drunk in the first scene – it’s hard to tell. If the aim of sloppy talking is to underscore the unlikeliness of the attraction, it’s probably not necessary.
 
What is new and interesting about Heisenberg (which Manhattan Theatre Club moved from its tiny Stage II to its Broadway venue) is the way it allowed Brokaw and the producers to add whole banks of seats to the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Parker and Arndt move along a slim acting corridor (also occupied by a few minimal pieces of modular furniture) between an audience on stage and the regular one in the house. We are effectively looking at each other across the gulf of the stage, “performing” for each other. Like most everything in this slim and portentous piece, the concept has some appeal. For about 10 minutes.

 


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