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The uncertainty principle of German scientist Werner Heisenberg states that the position and velocity of any object cannot both be measured exactly at the same time. In Simon Stephens’ much-celebrated play, “Heisenberg,” that theory is applied to people – two impressively dissimilar adults who meet awkwardly in a London train station and then begin a process of individual change – a change filled with immeasurables.
Now at the Mark Taper Forum, fresh from a much-celebrated Broadway run, the play proves very funny, intellectually engaging, and as rich in humanity as all of that implies.
Alex Priest, a stolid, elderly Irish butcher who lives alone in London, meets the significantly younger Georgie Burns when she impulsively kisses him on the back of the neck. Did she think he was someone else? We may never know, but her virtual stalking of him from that point forward, and her almost nonstop monologue on life, gradually shift Alex from his highly patterned, insulated isolation into a new view of the world around him.
The question, of course, is why she does this. What, in her constant speech, is the truth and what is fantasy? Is she a con artist, or genuinely fragile, or (as the British would put it) a bit mental? Does it matter, really, in Alex’s world?
This production has arrived in Los Angeles with the same two people who made it a sensation in New York. The chemistry between Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker allows for the questions to fill the room, and yet not get in the way of watching two fascinating characters intertwine. Arndt’s Alex is delightfully underplayed, with small changes balancing well against the verbal and emotional abandon of Parker’s insecure Georgie.
The director, Mark Brokaw, who also created the New York original, has let these two extraordinary performances stand on their own. The performance is uniquely centered by set designer Mark Wendland in the Taper’s performance space, with only two easily-moved tables and two chairs to provide any necessary physical needs. Thus, the performances are literally everything, a piece brilliant stagecraft, as this is – indeed – all one needs.
Stephens’ script is delightful and wistful by turns, but never sentimental. There are moments of startling, delicious humor, and others of ponderable introspection. But most of all, in the hands of these two extraordinarily skilled actors, there is a particular kind of aching humanity – that delicate need for human connection that a modern social system makes easy to overlook.
“Heisenberg” is a fascinating exercise for many reasons. For someone who appreciates the things theater can do that no other medium does, the sheer sense of place and time expressed on a black block of a stage with minimal furniture is a treasure in itself. More than this, there is an elemental humanity at work in that space, not to mention two impressive examples of the actors’ art to savor. For all these reasons and more, catch this one with these actors, in this setting, while you can.
What: “Heisenberg” When: Through August 6, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays Where: The Mark Taper Forum in the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $25 – $95 Info: (213) 628-2772 or http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
For anyone who grew up in the particular age of television that I did, one of the two or three annual television events you waited for was the re-airing of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” remarkable at the time for being the only major musical written for television. Along with “The Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan,” it was one we could all sing along with – or even giggle at, as we got older and more “sophisticated.”
Of course, the one we all adore was neither the first R&H “Cinderella” for TV, nor the last. A live broadcast of a somewhat different rendition was the original, filmed in New York on a Monday in 1957. That’s when Broadway musical stars – including its first Cinderella, Julie Andrews – were sprung from their usual nightly performances. It was cut and changed some for the 1965 Leslie Ann Warren version we all knew, and then the show was rewritten again, slightly, for Brandy’s 1997 broadcast.
Now it’s on stage, and at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Using a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (a radical thing for the normally protective Rogers and Hammerstein Trust) and injecting music by Rogers and lyrics by Hammerstein gleaned from their archives as well as the more familiar pieces, this “Cinderella” aims to appeal to a different age. This prince is more nuanced. This Cinderella is somewhat more responsible for her own future. One of the step-sisters is even nice. It takes some adjustment, but after awhile one must admit this newer-than-new version has great visual and emotional appeal.
Paige Faure makes a delightfully likable Ella (or Cinderella) – smart, if somewhat despairing and more wowed than swept off her feet. Andy Huntington Jones gives the prince (and he gets a nickname too: Topher) a youthful bashfulness which works far better than the overt sense of privilege one usually sees. Branch Woodman provides the conniving senior minister, and Antoine L. Smith the noble, but surprisable town crier.
Aymee Garcia makes a deliciously ridiculous step-sister, voicing every spoiled child’s misguided attitude. Kaitlyn Davidson gives an interesting turn as the other step-sister, whose love for an earnest social critic allows her perspective on both her sister and Cinderella. David Andino makes an interesting addition as the somewhat bumbling revolutionary.
Indeed, all the cast do well. The show proves to be a festival of singing and colorful dancing, with characters kept just stereotypical enough to be fun and lighthearted. The one real question mark in the casting is the venerable Fran Drescher as the evil stepmother. Thing is, she really can’t sing. That famous raspy voice may be comic, but is a sign of vocal damage. In a show which is all about music, she just isn’t up to the rest of the cast.
Still, this “Cinderella” has many charms. One of the best is the Tony-winning costuming of William Ivey Long, which is quite literally magical. And, of course, even as there is more social commentary, and a significant increase in political correctness, there is the classic Broadway choreography of Josh Rhodes sweeping through the piece under the watchful eye of director Mark Brokaw, who still leads us to the romantic magic of it all.
So, go. Take the kids. There are special treats for them, and it’s just the kind of swoony thing they’ll remember for a long time. Just ask my companion, who looking back to our youth, was singing along with the most romantic pieces (albeit under her breath).
What: “Cinderella” When: Through April 26, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays Where: The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $125 – $40 Info: (213) 972-4400 or http://www.centertheatregroup.org