Alex Organ, Second Thought Theatre’s artistic director, became interested in British playwright Nick Payne when Dallas Theater Center presented Constellations, a play filled with big thoughts about things like string theory, multiple universes and assisted suicide.
Incognito considers equally lofty ideas. Payne uses the strange but true tale of Thomas Harvey as the jumping-off point to explore the intersection of memory, the brain and the human condition. Harvey, a pathologist, autopsied and stole the brain of Albert Einstein and then spent the next 40 years dissecting, studying it and sometimes carrying it around in the trunk of his car.
Incognito follows several stories that are tied together by the common thread of memory loss. Payne employs a creative narrative structure that may at times confuse the audience, but that’s exactly what the playwright wants. Organ promises that by the end, “things come into focus and two of the timelines will merge to thrust several characters together.”
Incognito asks serious questions about who you are if you lose your memory. The characters in the play who are suffering from memory loss are forced to continually replay the same scenes and repeat the same questions with loved ones, leading one character to ask, “What if you can’t remember to forget?” This powerful play leaves the audience wondering if there might not be freedom in forgetting.
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Incognito takes place in London over an unspecified period of time. The 90-minute show is staged on a simple set with four actors employing various accents to play 20 characters. With no costume changes, the accents aid the audience in keeping the characters and stories straight. Organ directs the cast that includes Drew Wall, Second Thought’s director of operations, along with Shannon McGrann, who was seen in Water Tower Theatre’s 2018 production of Hand to God. Dallas newcomer Natalie Hebert and Dallas favorite Thomas Ward complete the foursome.
Since 2011, Second Thought Theatre has been staging the majority of its productions in Bryant Hall, the annex next door to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kalita Humphreys Theater. However, the future of Bryant Hall is uncertain as city officials and conservancy groups debate the fate of the historic Kalita Humphreys and the surrounding campus. The outcome could potentially see Bryant Hall razed, which would affect Second Thought and two other theater companies that perform on the campus, Dallas Theater Center and Uptown Players.
“The little black box theater in Bryant Hall is the perfect place for Second Thought’s productions," Organ says. "We would love to stay here."