By William Wolf

INCOGNITO  Send This Review to a Friend

Make sure your brain is in good working order if you go to see “Incognito,” as it will undergo demanding exercise as you strain to follow the clever, intricate interplay with 2O characters portrayed by four actors in the staging of Nick Payne’s “Incognito,” slickly directed by Doug Hughes.

At the start, Geneva Carr, Heather Lind, Charlie Cox and Morgan Spector, who will deftly handle all the roles, march down the aisle, take to the stage, walk around in circles and then lunge into energetic choreographed motions to demonstrate “Encoding.” You see, at the core the play is all about the human brain, and especially Albert Einstein’s brain.

Although fictional, the play performed so ingeniously by the talented cast is inspired by fact and real people. (The Playbill provides an author’s note with a heavy dose of references.) Getting down to basics, did you know that a pathologist kept a portion of Einstein’s brain for study? It naturally was of special interest when Einstein died, with hope for clues as to his genius. Slivers of it now reside in a museum in Philadelphia.

What playwright Payne does is to dramatize actions involving the great man’s brain, replicated in a jar that we see, and mix all of that with drama that includes murder, mystery and relations between various characters. One question posed, for example, is whether Evelyn Einstein, known as the adopted daughter of the scientist’s son Hans Albert Einstein, might really be the scientist’s daughter from one of his romantic liaisons. Could DNA from Eisntein’s brain establish the truth?

In the larger picture Payne’s brainy play seeks to make us think about how the brain functions. The cast goes through two more labeled sections, illustrated by further choreographed movements, called “Storing” and “Retrieving.”

The acting is consistently admirable, as the cast members slip in and out of a variety of characters at a rather rapid pace. Voices and demeanor become very different, and some situations may surprise, such as a lesbian encounter. By the end of the intermission-less 90 minutes we have a broad picture and are sent home possibly thinking about brain function and trying to sort out what our own brains have just experienced.

Payne, whose play “Constellations” you may remember for its unusual take on a relationship, is especially creative and demanding in this Manhattan Theatre Club presentation. And there is just the right cast to make the most of his head trip. At New York City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed May 26, 2016.


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