If you examine the symbolic play title “Heisenberg,” you get the essence of what playwright Simon Stephens apparently is doing-- defining what is essentially a love story in the framework of a scientific theory. In 1927 German physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) introduced his quantum mechanics uncertainty principle. In the play “Heisenberg” a relationship develops between an unlikely couple and uncertainty as to what will or will not develop is the underlying theme.
The working out of the playwright’s musings, under the snappy direction of Mark Brokaw in this Manhattan Theatre Club presentation performed with a good part of the audience seated on stage, is in the hands of two terrific actors, Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker. The interplay begins when Alex Priest (Arndt) and Georgie Burns (Parker) get talking in a London train station when she impulsively kisses him on the neck. Their dialogue as they get acquainted is consistently sharp and entertaining.
The two couldn’t be more different. Alex is a butcher in his 70s and rather reserved, while Georgie is a much younger, brash American in her 40s. She manages to track down Alex after they part. As the play progresses in stages we gradually learn more about both.
Alex , suffering a romantic loss when a woman left him, has retreated into a life without a new relationship. Georgie, who is from New Jersey, has a son who has rejected her and disappeared from her life. She longs to find him, and when she eventually gets the nerve to ask Alex for money to go back to New Jersey to try to find her son, he surprises her with the funds.
Georgie is given to making up stories as we see her live-wire, sometimes very kooky personality. She is aggressive in her pursuit of Alex, who step by step is seduced by her likability and flair and the new opening that has been presented in his life.
Every part of the way is marked by the uncertainty about what will happen next. Their story unfolds in segments delineated by quick blackouts, after which the action progresses in various locales within a very simplified, bare set minus any frills. The focus is all on their lively conversations.
All lies in the writing and acting, and the stars are commanding. Parker, in a role very different than some of the parts she has played, is amusingly flamboyant and a dynamic force that little by little brings Alex out of his shell. Finally, when we see Alex and Georgie in New Jersey, one grasps an inkling of their further closeness in a beautifully conceived ending.
There is no uncertainty that this is a captivating play offering two highly appealing performances. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed October 18, 2016.