Premiere examines complexity of the mind
by Shirley Lorraine
Fact and fiction are interwoven as The Rubicon Theatre Company presents the West Coast Premiere of Incognito by Nick Payne, a fascinating look at how humans think, act and rationalize actions. While the opportunity to stage the premiere bumped the scheduled offering of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me out of the line-up, it presents a challenging and thought-provoking piece. This proves true for both the actors and the audience.
Rubicon regular Joseph Fuqua, Betsy Zajko, Mark Jacobson and Claire Adams skillfully embody 21 characters as they fashion three stories, two based in fact, to show how complex the human brain can be. Presented on a stage bare save for four chairs, the actors glide from role to role effortlessly. The heightened pace challenges the audience to keep up with the rapid changes in both characters and story lines.
At the base of the piece is a telling of Thomas Stoltz Harvey (Joseph Fuqua), a pathologist who autopsied and then stole Albert Einstein’s brain. His obsession with the possibility of tapping the source of Einstein’s genius was never fully realized, creating a life path riddled with confusion and self-doubt which also slowly shreds the fabric of his marriage to Eloise (Betsy Zajko).
Woven into this is a glimpse into the tortured mind of Henry Maison (Mark Jacobson) whose brain is compromised severely after lobotomy surgery to attempt to cure his epilepsy. He suffers extremely short-term memory loss resulting in repetitive bolts of awareness that quickly dwindle to nothing. His wife (Claire Adams) tries in vain to help him regain some of his memory by encouraging him to play the piano. He has forgotten he knew how to play.
A third story introduces us to Martha Murphy (Betsy Zajko), a British clinical neuropsychopathologist who struggles to find her place in the big picture that is humanity. She presents with conflicts over her identity and her purpose in life. Of the three, her story is the least clear in intent. To me, anyway.
The four actors handle the frequent character switches incredibly well, giving each distinct and identifiable differences. For me, however, the story lines moved so quickly I had trouble keeping up with the myriad ideas and questions being posed in each. The amount of insight required was overwhelming. Fortunately, the program outlines the premise which makes the action a bit easier to follow.
An extremely nice touch to the otherwise bare set is a row of wooden sticks fashioned into mobiles hanging from the ceiling reminiscent of DNA helixes, emphasizing, at least subliminally, how our DNA shapes our futures. To add to the meaning of the second story, they were made from a dismantled non-functioning piano, illustrating that the music of our lives continues to play regardless of our choices.
Incognito is well suited to those who embrace mental challenges.
Incognito plays Wednesdays to Sundays through October 1 at the Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St. (corner of Main and Laurel Streets). Matinees: 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Evening performances at 8 p.m., except 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, which features a post-show talk back with the cast. Tickets: $30-$55. The box office is open 7 days a week. There is 24-hour ticketing and seat selection online at www.rubicontheatre.org. 667-2900.