Theatre review: Incognito, by Nick Payne

Incognito, by Nick Payne, astonished me with a sharp and humorous rendition of some of the themes I happen to be most attached to as a writer.

It’s hard to tell the story behind Incognito without revealing too much of its interconnected plots and characters, so I will just say it involves Albert Einstein’s brain, a divorced neuropsychologist who dates a younger girl, and some delightful air piano playing. The action moves fast across time and space, both combined in Einstein’s relativity theory, in a twister of emotions. Scenes roll one unrelentingly after another in a somewhat similar way to Constellations, another play by Nick Payne.

Science and loss, as in how to use the first one to deal with the second one, are at the center of Incognito, as much as they built the pillar around which Constellations revolved. I felt the same sense of scientific interest in people in the two plays: what’s human nature? How do we react to loss? How do we cope with our everyday life and the hurdles it puts on our pathway? How do we manage diseases, in our own bodies and in the bodies of the people we love the most? These are the questions I ask myself most frequently, in my observations of human beings and in my attempts to describe the way we live and interact with each other.

One of the characters played by Charlie Cox suffers from short term memory loss: similarly to Sammy Jankis in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, he can only retain what just happened in the past few minutes, and the last thing he remembers from his past is his beloved wife. This is the hardest loss: seeing our own life slip away through our fingers, recognizing that we are unable to do anything to stop it.

“Incognito”, a play by Nick Payne and featuring Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Heather Lind, and Morgan Spector, is currently showing at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York City.