Review: INCOGNITO at Constellation Theatre Company

By: Feb. 16, 2023
Review: INCOGNITO at Constellation Theatre Company
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It's not uncommon to question who we are, and our sense of self - I have a degree in philosophy to prove that you can devote at least four years to the topic. But what makes Incognito, Constellation Theatre Company's latest production, so unique in this sense is that it doesn't just question that sense of self, but also specifically explores how it's tied to our memories, our actions, and our relationships.

Incognito follows three main storylines across the 20th century: Henry, a young musician who suffers from seizures, has lost his ability to form new memories. Dr. Thomas Harvey, a pathologist who performed Albert Einstein's autopsy, takes Einstein's brain to try to unlock the mysteries of the great man's genius. And a neuropsychologist attempts to start over while struggling to understand the roles of memory and self in her personal and professional lives. Nick Payne's play explores these varied avenues, which lightly overlap in the way life often does, and circles around the question that sits at the core of them all: what makes us who we are?

Review: INCOGNITO at Constellation Theatre Company
Marcus Kyd and Kari Ginsburg

Throughout the play, Payne's characters muse over whether the key to self is connected to something physical within the brain - it's this line of thinking that leads Dr. Harvey to study Einstein's brain, leading him down a spiral in which his obsession ruins his career and his marriage, and yet nothing worth publishing is found. Conversely, this same line of thinking leads the neuropsychologist, Martha, to consider whether one's personality or identity is in fact unfixed, capable of changing with the right circumstances. But even as she considers if there's some sort of freedom from the assumed self, a freedom that can help her navigate her own changing life, we see in Henry that some things - like his love for his wife, Margaret, and his skill with the piano - do not fade even when everything else does.

Payne's beautiful stories are certainly compelling, but it's the performances Director Allison Arkell Stockman and the cast bring to Constellation's production that truly make them incredible. Four actors - Kari Ginsburg, Ixchel Hernández, Marcus Kyd, and Gerrad Alex Taylor - play a host of twenty characters, some more central to the plot than others, but all enthralling in their own way (indeed, some of the smaller roles stood out almost as noticeably as the central characters, thanks to the actors' fun interpretations). Ginsburg's portrayal of Martha was touching and frustrating, and it was really wonderful to see her character navigate her changing world. Kyd's depiction of Dr. Harvey was a fascinating descent into obsession, and Kyd's subtle movements deftly communicated the doctor's worsening state and his changing abilities to interact with others. But it was Hernández and Taylor, as Margaret and Henry, who truly broke my heart as they played through Henry's memory loop over and over, with Hernández's emotional reactions in stark contrast to Taylor's distressing resets.

Review: INCOGNITO at Constellation Theatre Company
Gerrad Alex Taylor and Ixchel Hernández

Supporting this strong cast were entrancing production elements. Nephelie Andonyadis' stunningly painted starlings in flight grace the main set wall, and the clever benches arranged around the stage (which included unobtrusive openings for props) were utilitarian and easily adapted to the frequent scene changes. But the real technical standout was easily Alberto Segarra's gorgeous and creative lighting design, which incorporated colorful lights on the stage and within Andonyadis' benches, and a series of hanging exposed lightbulbs above that nearly danced with the patterns they created. Lighting is often used to set the tone or highlight other elements of the production, but in Incognito the lighting deservedly and actively seizes the audience's attention, almost adding another layer as it mimics pulses in the brain.

Overall, Incognito is a beautiful, thoughtful play, and Constellation Theatre Company's production is brimming with passion and talent. We may not ever fully understand what makes us who we are, but the cast and creative team at Constellation have certainly figured out what makes a good show.

Incognito plays at Constellation Theatre Company through March 12th. Performance run time is approximately 100 minutes. Trigger warnings for depictions of violence and memory loss, as well as the use of flashing lights. Information on tickets, accessibility, and Affinity Night performances can be found on the Constellation Theatre website.

Photos courtesy of Constellation Theatre Company and DJ Corey Photography. Heading photo features Gerrard Alex Taylor, Marcus Kyd, Ixchel Hernández, and Kari Ginsburg (L-R).


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