Manhattan Theatre Club
By Nick Payne
Directed by Doug Hughes
Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Avenues
Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow
Executive Producer, Barry Grove
Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox
Heather Lind, Morgan Spector
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Movement Direction: Peter Pucci
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Production Stage Manager: Catherine Lynch
Casting: Nancy Piccione
General Manager: Florie Seery
Director of Artistic Operations: Amy Gilkes Loe
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Director of Production: Joshua Helman
Line Producer: Nicki Hunter
General Manager, Incognito: Lindsey Sag
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 12, 2016 Matinee
Doug Hughes, Director of Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Nick Payne’s Incognito, uses the same device that he uses in this season’s The Father, with scenic shift interludes delineated with tonal, electronic flashes. But, in this play the lights don’t turn off, they stay on, and the four actors do relaxation, re-set body exercises, enfolding, crossing, and lifting hands and arms, while walking on a lit oval on the bare stage. Like Mr. Payne’s two-actor, Constellations, reviewed last season, the four-actor, Incognito consists of extrapolated bits of dramatic storyline, each sequentially resolving one of several plots, with each of the four exceptional actors either participating in the bit of storyline or sitting rear stage, waiting for the next minute of thematic clues, relating to a different storyline. It’s confusing, yes, deliberately, as Mr. Payne teases our brains, memory, concentration, and patience. Full disclosure, a few Manhattan Theatre Club subscribers left during the intermission-less play, as they were probably unable to fuse stitches of accents and conversations to the same, previous stitches of accents and conversations, performed by the exact same actors. The accents are British, American, German, and maybe more, as I abandoned my notes in favor of full, lean-in focus.
The various plotlines include, but are not limited to: a Princeton pathology examiner (Mr. Spector), who did the autopsy on Einstein and stole his brain, when it was over, so he could publish unique papers on the biological-chemical elements present in miniscule fragments of this genius’ brain, which he kept in his basement in formaldehyde; a former professional pianist (Mr. Cox), now an amnesiac, who is trying to remember how to play three notes; another amnesiac regressing to his honeymoon, who’s afraid of his girlfriend’s father; another amnesiac (or the same, Mr. Cox), who keeps being introduced to Ms. Lind, his girlfriend or wife, with an “I Love You” echoed: a possible adopted daughter (Ms. Carr) of Einstein or of his grandson, who also, in another plot, falls for Ms. Lind; a magazine writer (Mr. Cox), who has researched Ms. Carr’s heritage and wants to meet to show her his findings; a man (Mr. Spector) who strangles his new wife; a man (Mr. Spector) who is cheating on his wife (or maybe they’re one and the same), and so on. The program lists research sources for the play, including the esoteric “Incognito” by David Eagleman, “Forever Today: A Memoirs of Love and Amnesia” by Deborah Wearing, “Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain” by Carolyn Abraham, and “Case Studies in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation” by Barbara Wilson.
Mr. Cox had empathetic roles and charm, trying very hard to play 2, then 3, then a phrase of piano notes, with this character highlighting the play’s predictable finale. As the lover unable to remember Ms. Lind’s name, he again played the part with pathos. As the conflicted woman in this plotline, Ms. Lind seemed appropriately more and more distracted, one who might move on. Mr. Spector, as the procrastinating scientist who delays and delays his papers on Einstein’s brain, exuded naturalism and credible flaws. As the murderous husband, he was treacherous. Ms. Carr, in her multiple roles, exuded strength and conflict, at once. Mr. Hughes has directed to magnify the various thematic threads, but many in the audience were vocal in the aisles, about their dismay and disappointment. The program might have been proactive, listing the plotlines and related characters, a guideline for those accustomed to cohesive stories and unique actors.
Scott Pask’s stark, contemporary set is a lit, oval floor, with a couple of chairs, spotlighting one or two characters in the fragmented dialogue. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are generic black, brown, and grey. Ben Stanton’s lighting shifts the stage floor, walls, and ceiling lights between scenes, highlighting three projected titles that accompany the actor-exercises - “Encoding”, “Storing”, and “Retrieving”. David Van Tieghem’s music and sound are intrinsic to the time-lapse shifts. Kudos to Ms. Carr, Ms. Lind, Mr. Spector, and Mr. Cox for their flawless memory, accents, and ever-changing characterizations.