I love the Taper. I love dressing up for openings. I love seeing theatre with new friends. And lately I've really been digging the British playwright scene. But it was rough for me to figure out what write about this show, Heisenberg by Simon Stephens. I didn't hate it. There were things I liked about the performances and things I loved about the writing...but at the same time, there were also parts of both those elements that I did not really go for.
This time I was joined by my actor friend Spencer, one of the front-runners of the Urban Theatre Movement, who's show I had seen and loved just a few weeks earlier at Fringe. He ended up liking the show much more than I did, and that is the beauty of theatre folks! I think I was at a disadvantage from reading the play beforehand. It's not like I had memorized any part of it, but some of the moments the opening night audience seemed to be eating up, I wasn't enjoying as much because I knew they were coming. After reading the play and not really connecting to it (and finding myself pretty frustrated with the female character overall), I had hoped that a performance from two theatre renegades would turn my perception around. Tony Award winner Mary Louise Parker and this year's Tony nominee for his role in this very show, Denis Arndt bring this show straight from its relatively warm reception on Broadway earlier this spring. Similar to Nick Payne's Constellations, this is one of those two-handers that gets blown up at a big venue, when really it could be performed in a much smaller, up-close and personal space. Even a blackbox would serve the content in a major way. Although I'm not sure if a change of locale would exactly improve the content of the show in this case.
"We hold very different perspectives on experiences we imagine we're sharing." -Alex
So I'll just get down to it. This play is about the evolution of an obscure yet redeeming relationship between Georgie, an American expat in her forties working as a grade school secretary in London (played by MLP) and Alex, a seemingly "shy" butcher originally from Ireland in his seventies. Although their friendship/relationship does transform in a surprising and somewhat beautiful way, Georgie's sporadicalness and compulsive lying made it very difficult for me to buy in to the viability of this couple. I wanted to be for her sometimes, but I was pretty much aways against her. Although Mary Lousie Parker has certainly earned her Broadway street cred in the past, her take on this character did not help with my already overwhelmingly negative perception of Georgie. Arndt's portrayal of Alex is soft, charming and smart. As an esteemed actor he delivers a lovely performance, although perhaps not demanding enough to land him the award he was nominated for. In this show, I want to hug Alex and I want to push Georgie sometimes, but there are some engaging moments of two people simply assuring each other that inspire and solidify our need for a variety of human relationships.
I wanted to like this. I'm a fan of Simon Stephen's work and his dedication to the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court Theatre. I really enjoyed his theatrical adaptation of the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime when I saw it on Broadway a few years ago (I'll be seeing it again at the Ahmanson in just a few weeks). I'll hand it to him that tucked into the show, there is an arms' load of powerful, insightful dialogue, one being Alex's gorgeous monologue near the end of the show. The play does make me want to read more of Stephen's writing. Like a number of other CTG show's this season, it makes me want to learn more from adults that went before me. Alex's history might seem heartbreaking to some, and inspiring to others. But what allows us to even hear his story on this stage is Georgie's provoking and needing to hear it. It makes me wonder what I don't know about my close friends and family, what they need to tell and what they don't.
Heisenberg runs at the Mark Taper Forum through August 6th.