First of all, let me say that I absolutely love having Broadway shows here in Los Angeles. It’s a real opportunity for us Angelenos, which I always appreciate, love or hate the presentations themselves.
So, I guess you all know what’s coming next. It turns-out that I am not a fan of Heisenberg, which opened a week ago at the Mark Taper Forum, direct from Broadway, where it earned tons of accolades. So I expected to love it, but there are so many problems with the show, and especially the staging, that I found myself laughing only twice. And even those were far from guffaws.
The writing is good, what I could hear of it. But the staging is odd. And semi-uncomfortable.
There are two main problems with it. The first is a big one—we could barely make-out what the two actors were saying. And I’m known to have bionic ears. (Trust me—you don’t want to whisper your secrets if you’re anywhere near me.) People seated around me kept asking each other what the actors said, which made it even worse. That was due to the weird staging, which I’m sure the producers thought was clever, but had nothing to do with the story, and was just trying too hard to be different. (Have I mentioned the staging?)
It was a skinny strip of a stage, with audience members on both sides of it, but then the body of the assemblage was in the usual Taper seating areas. That awful set meant that at least one actor’s back was to a portion of the audience the entire time, even with them moving around! (And you regular readers know how much I love a great set, so this one was especially frustrating.) The only furnishings were a couple of chairs and tables, which would not have bothered me if I hadn’t been annoyed with everything else about it. It would probably be good in a small theater, where the dialogue can be heard in its entirety. The script of Heisenberg is good enough—it doesn’t need those pretensions.
Perhaps even worse than the sound situation is what Mary-Louise Parker was doing with her speech. I spent at last the first ten minutes being upset that they hadn’t cast a real deaf person in the part, because I assumed the character was supposed to be hearing-challenged since that’s how she was speaking. I thought that was going to be a big part of the narrative. But it turned-out that the character is not deaf at all. So what is up with that speech choice?! I cannot imagine what she was going for.
Not that I ever need anybody to confirm my opinions, but I do like to be fair, so my reviews often include what other audience members think of each experience. I had brought along an actress friend, who always tries to be as kind as possible about the work of others, so I could not wait to hear her take on Heisenberg, to share with you what I assumed would be her differing opinion. But guess what? She thought exactly what I did, down to assuming the character was supposed to be deaf because of Parker’s peculiar speech!
At least, outside of that very strange way of talking, Mary-Louise’s acting was good, which I’m sure would have made the story interesting, if we could have gotten past all the other weaknesses of the production. But, in addition to affecting that unnerving accent, she also had a bunch of perplexing movements. At points, I thought she was imitating Kristen Wiig’s Saturday Night Live character, the Target Lady. [Note: I know that Mary Louise Parker is a very accomplished actress, but this is the first thing I’ve ever seen her in. I know—you’re all shocked I never watched Weeds. But I have no time for things like that; I’m too busy living my glamorous life, and recording it all here for you guys!]
We could also barely make-out what Denis Arndt, the man in the show, was saying, but at that point, we just didn’t care. His speech didn’t thrill us either; he seemed to vacillate between accents the whole time. We heard an English accent, an Irish one, and just good old plain American, so we weren’t quite sure what he was doing. (Yes, I realize he was nominated for a Tony for this role, but I have to always call ‘em as I see ‘em.)
When my actress friend and I compared notes at the end, we figured that, from what we could make out, the show is about a woman who lies and uses people, and is basically a stalker, so we didn’t feel the need to explore it further. [Note: The “stalker” part I actually didn’t mind all that much; Mr. X calls me “the stalker who won,” a designation of which I’m actually pretty proud!]
I also don’t get the title, which is way too esoteric. I never read about a play before I see it, to be able to experience it with no preconceived notions, so I erroneously thought Heisenberg was about Nobel Prize winner, Werner Karl Heisenberg, (who was portrayed in the recent mini-series, Genius.) And I wish it had been! Especially when I saw the nutty headlines of reviews, like the one we noticed as we approached the theatre, that read “soaring, suspenseful, thrilling.” What was that critic watching?! It may be a good play to some people, but from whence did he get “suspenseful” and “thrilling?!” It’s a somewhat romantic comedy, for gosh sakes! I kept waiting for the German spies to arrive on stage!
My tiny last criticism is about the wardrobe. Parker wears very shiny shoes, which are distracting, especially against her otherwise-frumpy attire. But I was probably annoyed by that as a chain reaction to the rest of my time there.
All that being said, Heisenberg is actually worth seeing, especially because, at under an hour and a half, it’s such a short show. Just go in with very low expectations. And bring a hearing aid.
Heisenberg running through August 6, 2017
Mark Taper Forum 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.centertheatregroup.org