"Heisenberg" at the Mark Taper Forum

In the finest tradition of the theatrical two-hander, British playwright Simon Stephens (adapter of the Tony-award winning Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) has imagined a random encounter between a forty-something eccentric woman and a very ordinary seventy-five year old butcher. Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt, who are reprising their Broadway performances currently at the Mark Taper Forum, epitomize the kind of odd couple that makes for intriguing theater.

Parker’s character, Georgie Burns, is a motor-mouthed, free-association, one-woman firestorm, while Arndt plays the taciturn and mild-mannered Alex Priest. Both, however, are wayward, lost souls longing for a bit of human contact in a lonely and bewildering world. Georgie has chosen the path of outlandish and reckless speech and behavior, while Alex has trod the straight-and-narrow, cautious road in life.

In something of a tenuous metaphor, Stephens links the title of the play, Heisenberg, to the random uncertainty of particles clashing in a chaotic universe. Although their meeting is not quite as random as one is led to believe, the clash between these two very different personalities makes for engaging theater. And in the end, we learn that Georgie and Alex are not quite as different as we assumed.

Parker takes on the role with spirit and energy, and Arndt is the perfect foil for her whirling ferocity. Director Mark Brokaw sticks with the crispness of the text, keeping both the set and the tone of the play minimal and tight.

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