Second Thought Theatre INCOGNITO – Review by Gadi Elkon

Here is my full review of Second Thought Theatre’s season opening production, Incognito.

Second Thought Theatre opens its 15th season with playwright Nick Payne’s brain teasing production INCOGNITO.  The play involves 4 actors portraying 20 roles across three intersecting timelines.  A bold choice for any theatre house to tackle and thus totally fitting for the fearless folks at STT.  Two of the stories timelines are based on real life incidents.  The main timeline is about Thomas Stoltz Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein and stole his brain, hoping that it would lead to great discoveries about the human mind.  The other lead timeline revolves around Henry Molaison, known in scientific circles as Patient HM, who had parts of his brain removed to cure his epileptic seizures.  The third story is a love story between a neuropsychologist and a lawyer both holding secrets.  Dr. Harvey is played by STT vet Thomas Ward who also embodies Dr. Victor Milner, Richard, and Dr. Jon Williams.  STT Director of Operations Drew Wall, check out my interview with him HERE, dives between Henry Molaison, Michael Wolf, Ben, Hans-Albert Einstein, and Greg.  Two STT newcomers Shannon McGrann and Natalie Hebert are the talented women portraying Evelyn Einstein, Martha Eloise Harvey, Brenda, Anna (McGrann) AND Margaret, Patricia, Lisa-Scott, Sharon (Hebert).  You’ll understand the names much better when you see the play!

STT keeps with Payne’s British vocab allowing for the English set pieces to remain fully connected.  With such heady and absorbing material one could find themselves lost.  STT holds your full attention with some thoughtful set design choices, a tremendously game cast, and a constant pace.

Director Alex Organ kept the actors more attune to the book rather than the movement of their many characters.  In fact the pacing of the play is intimately contained in this small never moving set.  The actors merely tag in and out of the circle floor space.  The audience is mainly situated right in front of the actors with two smaller seating areas to each side of the main one.  This allows the actors to step forward and back when they have more important sequences.  But this doesn’t mean the actors don’t each have little nuances and habits that really add to their many characters.  The little physical choices by the actors help fully separate their characters while not overshadowing the narrative’s important pattern.  Payne doesn’t merely take you on these three journeys to leave you dimwitted and confused by the play’s conclusion.  Incognito shares a magical connective element that was beautifully seen in his previous work, Constellations.  Side note, Alex Organ acted in a production of that particular love story of a play and it’s obvious his admiration for Payne’s sweet style.  The pacing, acting choices and feverish jumps through time allow for a final few moments that brought this critic to tears.  Yes, Nick Payne maybe known as the Brainiac Brit but his work comes down to the pursuit of love.

I don’t want to spoil the tremendous acting choices done by this quartet since I feel like they have opened 2019 with a huge statement piece.  Instead I’ll just urge you to make sure you don’t miss out on this wonderful production.  When most plays rely on more intricate elements this one just asks that you listen, watch and feel what these four folks are putting on.  Pure joy and magic if you allow Payne’s story to unfold before you.

The play runs through February 23rd at Bryant Hall.  For more information please check out Second Thought Theatre.

Also I hope you’ll check out my in-depth interview with Drew Wall.  Shameless plug but I rather enjoyed chatting with the talented actor and Director of Ops for my favorite theater.  Here is the INTERVIEW.