A Public Fit director Ann-Marie Pereth has one word of advice for those yet to see the theater company’s latest play: focus. That’s because Incognito, written by British playwright Nick Payne, deals with the way humans process memory, and what happens to our identity when we lose that ability.
“I would say it’s a sexy play about the brain,” Pereth says, and while there are humorous, tongue-in-cheek moments, Incognito shines for its emotional depth, specifically how it weaves together three distinct narratives that together help explain our relationships with our past.
Marcus Weiss delivers an outstanding performance as Henry Maison, a man who undergoes surgery to alleviate his seizures but ends up losing his short-term memory as a result. Erik Amblad plays Thomas Stoltz Harvey, the pathologist who, in reality, stole Albert Einstein’s brain and dedicated his life to studying it, despite never discovering anything. Tina Rice plays Martha, a neuropsychologist falling in love with the quick-witted Patricia Thorn (Jasmine Kojouri), a story later revealed to overlap with an aforementioned subplot.
Together, these four actors play an impressive 21 different characters, and while the rapid-change between roles can be confusing for the audience, it serves a key purpose. “You’re jumping from one scene to the next, and just like Henry, he’s trying to figure things out in real time,” Pereth says. As such, watching Incognito allows the audience a closer look at understanding memory loss and the overwhelming sense of confusion it creates as it takes over the mind.
The play opens with four characters dressed in gray, dancing in a choreographed sequence as the illuminated word “encoding” appears on the wall (each scene indicates a different stage of the memory process). “Because the play is about the brain, we wanted to have [Incognito] jump-cut from scene to scene, much like synapses.”
While it might seem like a roller coaster at first, the play begins to solidify when Weiss delivers one of the most jarring scenes in the play, when Henry experiences a seizure just after getting engaged. This scene develops even more sympathy for Henry, showing just how devastating his condition was even before he suffered from memory loss. We follow Henry, Incognito’s most tragic character, as his body also begins to fall apart after years of stress from never knowing where he is, or what happened to his family.
“If you didn’t have any of your memories from your whole life, if you suffered from amnesia and you didn’t remember anything, would you be you?” Pereth asks. The brain-obsessed Thomas seeks the answer to a different mind-related matter, hoping that by studying Einstein’s brain he would discover a medical-breakthrough, but his compulsion also leads him to lose touch with reality.
Staged inside Art Square Theater—on loan from Cockroach Theatre while A Public Fit’s permanent space undergoes renovations—Incognito kicks off A Public Fit’s fifth season right.
INCOGNITO Through December 16, dates & times vary, $25-$30. Art Square Theatre, apublicfit.org.