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Mary-Louise Parker & Denis Arndt on their 'intimate experience' in 'Heisenberg'

by Rosalie Atkinson | The Frame

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Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt can't imagine restaging 'Heisenberg' without each other. Credit: Joan Marcus

Mary-Louise Parker and Denis (Denny) Arndt have performed opposite each other in the play “Heisenberg” more times than they can probably count.

The play, about an unusual romance between an older butcher and a younger eccentric woman, was written by Simon Stephens. He also did the Tony-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Ardnt and Parker have performed “Heisenberg” Off-Broadway in 2015, on Broadway in 2016 and now in Downtown Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum.

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.” Written by Simon Stephens and directed by Mark Brokaw. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.” Written by Simon Stephens and directed by Mark Brokaw. (Photo by Craig Schwartz) Craig Schwartz

The L.A. production is sparse. With minimal props and improvised staging, this production directed by Drama Desk Award winner Mark Brokaw (The Lyons, How I Learned to Drive) lets the innate chemistry between Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt dictate the show.  

The unconventional staging begins before the audience is even ready. As the lights dim and the theater makes its silence your cell phones announcement, Parker and Arndt enter and position themselves; strategically avoiding entrance applause, according to Parker. For the next eighty minutes they tell the story of Alex (Arndt) and Georgie (Parker) and how their relationship transpires after the intrepid Georgie plants a kiss on Alex's neck in a crowded London train station. From then on, the two are magnetically connected despite differences in demeanor, origins, and age.

Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt play unconventional lovers in 'Heisenberg.'
Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt play unconventional lovers in 'Heisenberg.' Credit: Joan Marcus

Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt sat down with John Horn to discuss the play's variable nature and how the two couldn't imagine performing 'Heisenberg' without the other.

You can hear their conversation by clicking the play button on this page.  

Interview Highlights:

On acting in the theater versus TV or film:

Arndt: The difference for me is the human act of theater. The idea that we all get together, close the doors, turn on the light, let's pretend. Something happens between the group of people that agree to participate. When that thing happens in the room- it's electrifying for everybody. I don't find it gratifying. I don't do theater for any type of gratification. I do it for the sheer exercise of it. When it's good, you know it right away. When you are in a room where theater is happening and you're participating: something happens on a different level.

Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.” Written by Simon Stephens and directed by Mark Brokaw, “Heisenberg” plays through August 6, 2017, as part of Center Theatre Group’s 50th anniversary season at the Mark Taper Forum. (Photo by Craig Schwartz.)
Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.” Written by Simon Stephens and directed by Mark Brokaw, “Heisenberg” plays through August 6, 2017, as part of Center Theatre Group’s 50th anniversary season at the Mark Taper Forum. (Photo by Craig Schwartz.) Craig Schwartz

On falling in love with the script for "Heisenberg":

Parker: With me, it's been pretty immediate. With 'Proof' it was in the first ten pages, with this play it was in the first ten pages. Usually, I know by the third or fourth page and then I'm just praying that I won't turn back. But generally, it's really quick.

Arndt: I had to read it three times. I got it quite by accident... It was very obvious to me that it was subversive, in the sense of what is happening to most of theater – which is over-produced, heavy on the spectacle side. People come expecting to have something given to them, or fed to them. This was so different: two actors, the spoken word, no set, no frills. 

On director Mark Brokaw's minimalist approach:

Parker: It takes a lot of bravery on behalf of a director not to show off with production values, to not bring a stream of unicorns down a hill... He really spent his time on the intent of the words and the characters, where they begin and where they end... I think that is lost on some people. I think some people will say 'This seems like an acting exercise' but in a way, how often do you see that? I mean, I'm wearing my own clothes... Our entrance is during the cellphone announcement because I don't like entrance applause. It just takes everything off of the idea of 'performance'; [Brokaw] took that really far in a way that a lot of directors wouldn't have the courage to do.

On eventually revisiting the play:

Arndt: I'll never do it again, there's no question about that in my own mind... it's such an intimate experience. It just belongs to us... It wasn't for anything other than the exercise of that piece inside of a room. That's what it's about. I can't imagine doing it again.

'Heisenberg' is showing at the Mark Taper Forum until August 6th, 2017. For ticketing information, please visit the Forum's website.

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