Theater Review: Incognito by Charlie McMeekin of The Randolph Herald
Four actors walk onto the stage at Shaker Bridge Theater in Enfield, NH. Each occupies one corner of the square, standing behind a chair. Between them is space, a circle. Over the next ninety minutes that space will be peopled by 21 characters, portrayed by these two men and two women.
That empty space will be filled with big questions, and characters who will live in your memory when you leave the theater. You will meet Thomas Harvey, the real-life pathologist who took Albert Einstein’s brain after performing the autopsy, and kept it for more than 40 years. You will also meet another historic person, the “most studied figure in the history of medicine”, according to the program notes. Surgery left him with no short- term memory, making each encounter he has with someone a brand new experience, even if they’ve never left the room.
The play is Incognito, a word which etymologically means “without knowing”, and it’s an apt title for a play which toys with big ideas about what constitutes a personality. Is it our actions, our intentions, our memories? Playwright Nick Payne doesn’t give answers, but the unfolding vignettes of this cerebral theater piece confront you with much to think about. The play is somewhat akin to a crossword puzzle, the characters share a square with each other, but most complete words have letters provided by the puzzler’s own design. We’re all a part of the puzzle, and often fail to discern a pattern being built outside of our own little box. But the pattern forms like a murmuration, mysterious in its origins.
The success of the play rests soundly on the performance of the actors. There’s no fancy set or lighting, and even the costumes are all muted neutral colors. And this company was up to the demand of playing multiple characters, complete with differing mannerisms and accents!
Grant Neale comes to Shaker Bridge after a stint at the Metropolitan Opera. His portrayal of the pathologist who is intent on studying Einstein’s brain is nuanced and convincing, a slow descent from near rapture to personal destruction. He also gives life to Victor Milner, Anthony, Richard Walsh and Jon Willliams.
Anna O’Donoghue gives a commendable performance as the stoically patient girlfriend of Henry Maison, as well as portraying three other women.
Her dialectic shifts were at times titanic and always believable. She’s appeared on Broadway and Off Broadway, numerous regional theaters, and is serving as Chair of Arts in the Armed Forces’ Bridge Awards for Playwriting.
Leeanne Hutchison is a Shaker Bridge regular, and for good reason. She portrays Evelyn Einstein, Albert’s daughter, and in few words shines a spotlight on the tortured relationships Albert left behind in his family. She switches to playing a woman of many words who can never seem to be truthful in her personal relationships. Her work is athletic and impressive.
The one non-Equity actor in the cast, Travis Clark Morris, was my personal favorite, especially in his role as Henry Maison. His facial expression and tone each time he “met” his wife was endearing and genuine. In all, he plays six different characters, including Einstein’s son.
Strong chemistry united these four actors, and most likely that was due in no small part to director Bill Coons, the founder of Shaker Bridge Theater. His unassuming demeanor belies the wealth of knowledge he brings to theater and his courage in presenting challenging work in a small town in a small state.
Incognito runs through March 20, running Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30, and 2:30 on Sundays. Tickets may be reserved online at shakerbridgetheatre.org. Masking is required, as is proof of vaccination.