Less Science and More Chaos in ‘Heisenberg’ ✮✮

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) was a German theoretical physicist who won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics. You might be familiar with his name because the fictional Walter Hartwell White Sr. decided to use the name as his criminal pseudonym in “Breaking Bad.”

“Breaking Bad” involved science and chaos, both chemically induced like addiction and emotionally complicated like families and friends. Simon Stephens’ “Heisenberg”doesn’t involve science or scientists. More likely, this “Heisenberg” refers to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. The very concepts of exact position and exact velocity together, in fact, have no meaning in nature.” If you’re a non-science person, perhaps it’s easier to consider Dummies.com’s explanation:  “nature itself doesn’t allow you to make measurements of both quantities beyond a certain level of precision.”

In “Heisenberg,” this principle of uncertainty applies to the chance meeting and unlikely romance between an elderly London butcher, Alex Priest (Denis Arndt),  and a divorced, much younger woman, Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker). He’s stiffly silent; she’s irrepressibly outspoken. If you’ve traveled on subways regularly, before the advent of the irresistible portable screens on smartphones, these kind of incidents were common enough. Georgie takes this a bit further–she tracks down the butcher to his shop. The shop is rarely visited and no one interrupts this encounter. We learn that Alex likes animals, “I like very much the idea that a cow has a seam.” Despite Georgie’s admission that she’s lied,  Alex and Georgie go on a date and from a date things become more involved.

The set is a rectangular walkway with two black chairs and two black tables. Alex is dressed in a light grayish long-sleeved shirt and faded jeans. Georgie is dressed in gray pants and a patterned black-and-white tank top. Re-arranged, the tables and chairs represent different places and things. The actors are on stage the whole time and there’s no intermission.

Under director Mark Brokaw, each transition is clear and the timing crisp, but I still wasn’t attached to either character. “Heisenberg” may give hope to the confirmed bachelors and socially awkward singletons. Neither my plus one nor I were particularly engaged by this couple and we were both found the other Heisenberg more interesting. The plus-one also actually understands the actual Heisenberg principle.

This Manhattan Theatre Club production continues at the Mark Taper Forum until 6 August 2017.


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