"Incognito" Creates an Actor's Playground, All for the Audience



Someone steals Einstein’s brain. A neuroscientist explores her sexuality. A seizure patient loses all his memories but remains certain of his love for his girlfriend. Three seemingly disparate stories come together on the Urbanite Theatre stage with the current production of Incognito.

Written by rising star Nick Payne (whose work audiences may have seen in this past February’s production of Constellations at Florida Studio Theatre), the production is a coup for the Downtown Sarasota theater, which has tried to schedule the in-demand show for the past two seasons, but to no avail. Compared to a modern-day Tom Stoppard, Payne’s output already makes him a standout among young playwrights—“Phenomenal,” says Urbanite co-founder Brendan Ragan. “[Payne] can write about big ideas in very simple ways,” he continues, “and just through human relationships and human connections.” So when Payne creates a time-jumping, location-hopping exploration of identity, free will and memory through three very different stories—Incognito—it remains open and accessible.

But while Payne gets feted in New York, the performers have plenty of heavy lifting all their own. Four actors play 20 characters in the show. Ragan himself plays six.

And, unlike most productions seeing actors inhabit multiple characters, none of these transitions happen offstage or involve costume changes, leaving the actor to enact the transformation right in front of the audience, often with little more than a change in lighting to help them along. “There’s no time to go put on a funny hat and a mustache,” says Ragan. “You have to change on a dime.” That means making large physical and vocal adjustments, but never reducing character to caricature. “That’s the challenge,” he says, “maintaining some level of truth.” And for the three and a half weeks leading up to the Sarasota premiere of Incognito, that’s what Ragan and his castmates practiced. Some characters came right away; others required a few resets. “And some I still feel like I’m working on,” he says.

But it’s all in service of something higher, born of faith in the script and the story they’ve dedicated their time to. “As actors, we don’t have to ask major philosophical questions,” says Ragan, “all we have to do is play these characters with honesty and integrity. If we do that, and give the audience a relatable series of stories, their minds will leave churning.”

Currently onstage at Urbanite Theatre, Incognito runs through July 8.

Pictured, from left: Brooke Tyler Benson and Brendan Ragan in Urbanite Theatre's productionf of "Incognito." Photo courtesy of Urbanite Theatre.

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