BWW Review: The Gamm's INCOGNITO Will Make Your Head Swim
INCOGNITO is an incredibly ambitious play--not in terms of sets, but in terms of what is asks both the actors and the audience to comprehend. Each of the four actors in this production plays multiple characters over the course of four different but tangentially related vignettes that shift rapidly from one to another, and back and forth in time. Sound confusing? Don't worry, it is. The talented actors and director do quite well with a script that seems like a logistical nightmare, but what the playwright favored in cleverness, he neglected in terms of empathy and character development. There are some moments of genuine heart, but ultimately it feels like for the mental gymnastics the play asks of the viewer, the payoff isn't quite enough.
Each of the four stories in this play revolves around the human brain. One of those stories quite literally is about the theft of Albert Einstein's brain by Dr. Thomas Harvey, played by Tony Estrella. Another is the story of a man who after a seizure, has his memory almost completely erased and also cannot form new memories. There's the story of Martha, played by Casey Seymour Kim, a neuropsychologist who is dating women for the first time after a divorce, and another about a man who murders his wife with seemingly no motive, and no recollection of having done so. The stories vary in length and complexity, and the actors pivot from one character to another rapid fire with little indication which character they are until you glean what they're talking about.
It's that rapid transition that winds up being the most problematic aspect of the play. There are occasional lighting cues--moreso toward the end of the play, and frequently each character has a different accent or greets another by name, but it often takes a while to orient oneself as to where and when in time we are. Add to that sometimes sloppy or indistinct accents, and you don't know who you're looking at. Each of the actors conveys these shifts in character with subtle physical changes in bearing or stride, but too often it's not quite obvious enough. There are no costume changes to tip people off, but Tony Estrella does the best job of using his clothing as a much-needed prop to clue in the viewer. It feels sophomoric to say that it's hard to follow, but when there is already a lot going on in terms of story and dialogue, it's a big ask for audience to also expend extra energy figuring out which character they're looking at, especially when there are so many, some who we only see once.
Despite those issues, it really is impressive in the longer scenes to spend time with these actors in their various characters and truly appreciate the range they all bring to their roles. The play is very well cast with Gamm residents Karen Carpenter, Casey Seymour Kim and Tony Estrella. Also Michael Liebhauser deserves praise for his accent work in particular, and performances in general. Liebhauser's scenes with Carpenter where he plays a man who has lost his memory are particularly heartbreaking-- especially the juxtaposition of his unchanging cheerful demeanor and her increasing frustration and sorrow as he fails to progress. Carpenter carries a whole lifetime of emotions on her face in those scenes--optimism, stoicism, and grief.
A play of this type seems daunting to take on, and director Tyler Dobrowsky deserves credit for tackling this overly clever source material and trying to bring it to life. This seems like a work that is written to be studied, rather than enjoyed as a performance. Perhaps after multiple viewings, one can find their footing, but the first time is a bit rough.