If you saw Nick Payne’s time-jumping play Constellations last year, his latest, Incognito — a Manhattan Theatre Club production which opens tonight off Broadway — may feel familiar. The 85-minute, intermission-less run starts with Geneva Carr, Heather Lind, Morgan Spector and Charlie Cox (Daredevil) sauntering slowly past its audience, down the theater’s aisle in time to house music (written by David Van Tieghem). The actors walk in circles on the stage and come together in a sort of modern dance with sharp, jutting motions — kind of what you’d expect to see at a techno club in Eastern Europe at four in the morning. Arms cross, hands go to elbows, knees bend down into squats. The word “Encoding” flashes on a screen behind them.
That’s how we first meet Michael (Cox), the neighbor of a pathologist who just happens to have stolen Albert Einstein’s brain, and Evelyn (Carr), who’s quite possibly a descendant of Einstein himself. Their exchange is brief and abrupt, and within three minutes, Michael and Evelyn are gone, and Henry (Cox) and Margaret (Lind) appear center stage. The two play a British husband and wife struggling with the aftermath of Henry’s brain injury. Throughout the bare-boned drama, the four actors play a total of 20 characters. There’s a Southern housewife living in New Jersey, a therapist, a man who suffers from short-term memory loss, the woman who’s strangled by her husband, a patient caretaker, a waitress and her stoner friends, and on and on. Their stories — which deal with the brain and memory and how our memory affects the sense of self — all overlap. But unlike the the Tony-nominated Constellations, Incognito feels disjointed. Without the help of costumes, makeup, props, or different sets, it can be hard to follow how all of these lives intersect.
But plot holes aside, the acting is superb. The actors have nothing to play off of but each other, and with what feels like a millisecond between scenes, they transform completely. Four chairs line the perimeter of the stage, but the rest of the set is completely bare. When not in a scene, the actors sit and watch the performance along with the audience. They all dress in shades of gray — nondescript clothing that can disappear into any moment, any personality, any time. Within a blink, Cox goes from a young American sidekick-type to a feeble, elderly man, and is wholly convincing as both. Incognito is an actor’s dream. B-