Interview with Tony-winning playwright Simon Stephens
Tony winner Simon Stephens is currently represented on the Great White Way with the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Heisenberg, starring Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
He made his Broadway debut in 2014 with his Tony and Olivier Award-winning smash hit play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, whilst his off-Broadway credits also include the MCC Theater production of Punk Rock and the Atlantic Theater Company production of Harper Regan.
Thomas Hayden Millward: Congratulations on your second Broadway premiere with 'Heisenberg,' Simon! Broadway audiences will know you best as the Tony-winning playwright behind 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,' which was a visually stunning production. Did you ever imagine that 'Heisenberg' in comparison (with two actors, two tables, two chairs and a pillow) would go all the way to Broadway?
Simon Stephens: It was never something I wondered about or fantasized about. I just wanted to write the play as well as I could and help make the production as good as we could get it. But I had faith in Mark Brokaw, the director and his production and I loved the actors. I think as individual actors they are very special but together something happens to the both that is quite exceptional. They elevate one another and I was confident that audiences who were able to see that alchemy would find it exciting.
THM: Yes! Their onstage chemistry is truly captivating. As a playwright, do you ever get to be involved in the casting process of your plays?
SS: It’s part of the normal process in the UK that the playwright will attend auditions. It’s harder when a play is being produced in a country I don’t live in! But I talked at length to Mark and knew Mary-Louise’s work. I was thrilled by the idea of her playing Georgie. Denis, for me, like for many people was a revelation.
THM: I can certainly vouch for that myself, having never had seen Denis' work before either. What do you perceive to be the main strengths that both Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt bring to the table as actors?
SS: An intelligence. And a sense of trust in one another. They’re supple, alert readers and their faith in one another is infectious.
THM: In both your Broadway shows to date you have depicted multifaceted, complex and extraordinary characters such as Georgie and Christopher Boone, who defy 'normal' social behaviour. What draws you personally towards these characters?
SS: I think it’s in characters in extremis, the curious, the extraordinary, the marginalized, the outliers that humanity best reveals itself. They’re great fun to write. They’re intoxicating to watch.
THM: In the world of film, people sometimes moan that the Hollywood leading man is too often paired up with a lady young enough to be his daughter and never with an actress of the same age. Did you ever think what your play would have been like with the roles reversed, having an older female character?
SS: I’ve written that story a few times and will continue to. I enjoy the interrogation of the unlikeliness of love in all its facets. I think the Hollywood archetype tends to pretend that there is no age difference between the older man and the younger woman. The comedy and humanity of Heisenberg, if it exists, exists by drawing attention to the anomaly.
THM: We'll keep watching this space then! Finally, could you summarise for our readers what they could expect from a trip to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre to see 'Heisenberg’?
SS: They’ll watch a love story between two extraordinary characters. A forty five yearly woman and a seventy five year old man. Predicted on an interrogation of the Uncertainty Principle. They’ll watch two of the greatest stage actors in the US having the time of their lives!