Tony-nominated Denis Arndt and his Broadway leading lady Mary-Louise Parker light up the Mark Taper Forum stage as mismatched misfits made for each other in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg, an East-to-West Coast transfer that allows Angelinos to experience the same theatrical alchemy that only months ago filled seats on New York’s Great White Way.

Parker stars as American-abroad Georgie opposite Arndt’s Alex, the septuagenarian Irish butcher she accidentally (or perhaps not so accidentally) kisses on the back of the neck one evening at London’s St Pancras railway station, claiming somewhat improbably to have mistaken him for a recently deceased loved one.

Rather than beat an embarrassed retreat as might be expected, Georgie sticks around to offer Alex profanity-filled descriptions of her job (she’s “a fucking waitress” in Islington) and of a Southeast Asian honeymoon with a man who must have looked a lot like Alex.

And that would seem to be that, that is if Georgie didn’t show up at Alex’s butcher shop a few days later to let him know that every single thing she told him the first time round was a lie (“I do that thing quite often”), to quiz him about his job (Alex’s favorite thing about butchering is “the animals” and “the knives”), and to discover more about his dreary unmarried life (“I’ve never been on holiday, not since I was a child”).

Mostly, though, it’s Georgie who talks (and talks and talks), leaving it to the taciturn Alex to listen (and listen and listen) and try to distinguish fact from fantasy, not that this matters all that much when despite his cantankerous old self, he finds himself falling for a woman whose quirks make her pretty darned irresistible even at her most calculating, particularly as played by Parker at her most irresistibly oddball.

Like Terrence McNally’s Frankie And Johnny In The Clair De Lune, Heisenberg has us rooting for its two wounded souls to make it as a couple, however unlikely this might seem.

If only for its title, however, it’s clear that Stephens’ two-hander has more than odd-couple dramedy on its mind, as when Georgie tells Alex “If you watch something closely enough, you have no possible way of telling where it’s going or how fast it’s getting there,” which sounds more than a bit like theoretical physics, or so I’m told.

Even for those like this reviewer who don’t know Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle from Laurence J. Peter’s Peter Principle, Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg is a winner, particularly as directed with nuance, punch, and visual flair by Mark Brokaw and performed by two of Broadway and Hollywood’s most accomplished thesps.

There’s probably no one who plays quirky as magically as Parker, from the distinctive voice she gives Georgie, one that manages to both grate and charm, to her ability to respond in the affirmative and the negative in a single breath, to the sense of longing and loss that she shares with her magnificent scene partner.

Arndt, a TV staple since the mid-’70 and a Broadway star last year at 77, may have the less flashy role, but it earned him a deserved Tony nomination as a man as lusty as he is crusty, and ever bit both Parker’s engaging, endearing match.

Georgie and Alex play out their romantic cat-and-mouse game on scenic designer Mark Wendland’s black runway-shaped strip of stage, backed by a couple hundred audience members and bare but for two long black tables and two black chairs.

Austin R. Smith’s dramatic lighting, David Van Tieghem’s gravitas-adding sound design, and Michael Krass’s couple of just-right costumes complete the adapted-from-Broadway production design, with choreographer Sam Pinkerton scoring bonus points for a tango unlike any you’ve seen before.

James FitzSimmons is production stage manager. Stephen Gabis is dialect coach. Casting is by Nancy Piccione. L.A. theater stars Andrew Connolly and Paige Lindsey White understudy Alex and Georgie.

For a play named after a man best known for writing about uncertainty, but there’s nothing at all uncertain about Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg, at least not as regards its power to touch, to compel, and to captivate, all in equal measure.

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Mark Taper Forum, 35 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
July 6, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz


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