Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

IncognitoUrbanite Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Crossing Delancey and Jungle Book

Matt Crabtree, Brooke Tyler Benson
and Brendan Ragan

Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox
Urbanite Theatre is opening its fifth season with Nick Payne's Incognito, which is part science, part mystery, and 100% fascinating. Right at the top of the script, provided courtesy of Brendan Ragan, the author clarifies, "Despite being based, albeit loosely, on several true stories, this play is a work of fiction. But then, isn't everything?"

Two of the stories referred to above include that of Thomas Stoltz Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein and absconded with the brain for further study, and that of Henry Gustav Molaison, an American memory patient who had extremely advanced brain surgery performed on him (in the play he becomes Henry Maison and English). Twenty-one characters total, performed by four actors, swirl in and around these and other stories. The opening riff never comes clear until the end of the 95-minute play, so audience concentration is demanded, but the rewards are great. I gained what I thought was a fair amount of clarity regarding the material, but a talk back after added so much to my understanding, and the opportunity to sit down with the script, something I rarely do, is going to pay additional rewards.

Three of the actors are new to Urbanite, and only one of those three has anything resembling a local resume, but the acting is, in a word, astonishing across the board. Let's start with the known quantity, Brendan Ragan as Actor 4. His most noteworthy role is Henry Maison, requiring an English accent. Brendan slips in and out of his multiple characters so that all of them are reasonably clearly defined in a tour de force that easily rises to the finest work I have ever seen from this dependable actor. Matt Crabtree as Actor 1 has Thomas Harvey as his most prominent character, along with four others. The women, Sunny Smith as Actor 2 and Brooke Tyler Benson as Actor 3, have 9 roles between them, and Nick Payne does them no great favors in how he splits them up (say, one getting the youngish characters). I have seen Ms. Smith on local stages, but not in anything that tests her talents as this assignment does. All three give performances on the same exalted level, a brilliant ensemble performance by all.

A couple of years ago I called the Daniel Kelly directed My Barking Dog the best of Urbanite's season. Forget about it! His direction here, of this highly complex piece, is probably the best direction of a play seen this season in the region. I was sitting during the play imagining that the director and cast had to map out all the characters on paper, which turns out to have been absolutely correct.

This production isn't much affected by costuming (Alison Gensmer), sets (Ryan Finzelber), lighting (Finzelber), or sound design (Alex Pinchin), although all elements accomplish what they need to. Kris Danford is credited for being dialect coach, and with English and American characters I imagine she was an important presence.

In thinking back upon three years of presentations by Urbanite, I remember the hits ( The Drowning Girls, Dry Land and White Rabbit Red Rabbit), the super hits (Chicken Shop, Isaac's Eye, My Barking Dog, Ideation, Echoes and now Incognito), a few misses, and a couple that I did not get to see (Lungs, Stupid Fucking Bird and Pilgrims). The anticipation of each new production by this company runs high for me. I'm wishing them many more years of huge success.

By now, Sarasota audiences should have a decent idea of how Urbanite's artistic vision meshes with their particular taste. If there is a match, Incognito should not be missed. It's one of their most intriguing productions ever.

Incognito, through July 8, 2018, at Urbanite Theatre, 1487 2nd St., Sarasota FL. Visit for more information.

Actor 1: Matt Crabtree*
Actor 2: Sunny Smith
Actor 3: Brooke Tyler Benson
Actor 4: Brendan Ragan*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association