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Playwright Nick Payne 'Normalizes' Homosexuality in Incognito

incognito

Heather Lind (L) & Geneva Carr (R). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Following the success of last season’s Constellations, Manhattan Theatre Club is currently producing Nick Payne’s Incognito. The nonlinear 85-minute one act features four actors playing a combined 21 roles across multiple plot lines that examine the power and function of memory and identity.

In Incognito, Payne has based his work on real stories and real people. But the stories presented in the play aren’t completely truthful. “A lot of the play was confabulated. That's the idea,” says star Geneva Carr. “That's what is fascinating about it.” The truth and the confabulations, like the plot, braid together to create a mesmerizing experience for the audience. “Some of the true stories kind of weave in and out,” adds co-star Heather Lind, “and some of them are just inspiration for ways to tie the story together.”

While memory and identity are integral themes in the work, it is no surprise that Payne seamlessly folds in a homosexual narrative. One of the characters portrayed by Carr is Martha Murphy, a middle-aged woman who discovers she is a lesbian. Opposite her, Lind plays Patricia Thorn, the woman Martha is in love with.

For Martha, Carr draws inspiration from one of her closest friends, who at 47 discovered she was attracted to women and left her husband and children. “It's sort of like being left-handed,” says Carr. “The world is built for right-handed people, and if you are never given a crayon to play with in your left hand, you never realize that you’re left-handed. That's how she explains it.”

The presentation of lesbian romance in Incognito is free from artifice and stereotype. “I think what's beautiful about the way Nick has incorporated this female love story is that it's not sort of lifted up out of the ‘regular story.’” Says Lind. “It is simply a part of a normal life—whatever normal it is that we are presenting—it's her life.” Through the successful efforts of Payne, Carr, and Lind, the audience sees Martha and Patricia as humans who live, work, and love. “It's intimacy,” remarks Carr on the power of their relationship. “It's not about whether the two women are going to have sex. It's about whether or not the two women will be intimate and communicate.”

In a play that explores identity so tenderly, Incognito handles homosexuality with great care. “It's an interesting addition to telling this story,” says Lind. “What is love? Where does it come from? Is it programmed?” While confronting her late-in-life lesbianism, Martha battles internal shame. She is torn, trying to reconcile how she feels about herself and how society perceives her. “What if we just gave less weight to what comes before? What if we give the future a little more credit?” asks Lind. “I know, easier said than done. But, it's brave.”

Incognito runs Off-Broadway through July 10 at New York City Center Stage I  (131 West 55th Street). For tickets and more information, visit www.IncognitoPlay.com.

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