The Neurology of the Soul seeks to quantify the complexities of our passions. Can we measure the intensity of love? Its waxing and waning, its unpredictability, its mystery? This is a fascinating creative deep dive into neuroscience and it’s application in 21st century marketing. What ultimately makes us ‘tick’? Would our brains, under fMRI, scan reveal our deepest secrets to the scientist monitoring the experiment? Are we keeping secrets from ourselves? What happens to the ‘experiment’ when a third element/energy/force is added into the mix? How does the data change? This production makes you curious. It inspires a long list of questions about our susceptibility to manipulation as a species. It also puts relationships into a ‘petri dish’ and we watch them squirm under the intensity of the microscope trained on them. It’s compulsive viewing.
Untitled Theater Company No. 61’s Artistic Director, Edward Einhorn, has expertly written and directed this quest to find the “nexus between neuroscience, marketing, art, and love”. It’s the theatrical equivalent of trying to find the Higgs Boson particle, commonly known as the “God particle” -a kind of framework to understand “everything” in the known universe. It’s a mammoth task that Einhorn has undertaken. He is looking for big answers to human behavioral dysfunctions and expressions using the interstitial space between art, theater and science as the fertile place for intense study. The play sits on a bedrock of a mountain of research. It is evident in the text, the premise and the findings.
We meet Stephan (Matthew Trumbull) and Amy (Ashley Griffin), a couple on the brink of a life change. Stephan, a neuroscientist, has been offered a job in New York working for a successful marketing company run by the enigmatic Mark (Mick O’Brien). Amy, an artist, is excited by the prospect of living in the city again and re-igniting her dormant artistic career. Stephan has been involved in a study of which his wife is the key subject, and is given free reign to continue this work at his new job. However, Stephan now chooses to have only one subject of his study analyzing the human brain – his wife. The intensity, the scrutiny and the revelations of the “mind reading” slowly begin to take their toll on the couples relationship. As Stephan’s skills are used to ultimately sell products, Amy uses the scans as the basis of her new art works that are being given an exhibition thanks to Mark’s contacts. Amy struggles with how not to be a “struggling artist” and begins to devalue her work based on the ease of it’s acceptance in elite art circles. Mark is the catalyst shaking up the couples world and provoking them to make different choices. Is he a disrupter that brings about growth or destruction? The plotline of a couple under the scrutiny of their own invention is compelling. And then a fourth force joins the fray, the art dealer Claire, that epitomizes the unquantifiable element of the role “luck” plays in our unpredictable lives.
All four performers give flawless performances. Ashley Griffin as the defensive, wary artist brings a perfect cold, brittleness to Amy that slowly starts to the thaw as her creativity come up for breath. She has crafted a detailed, interesting, contained character that will delightfully explode with self realization. Mick O’Brien as the puppet master marketer Mark gives us a great charming snake – asking for our trust while slowly choking us with his tightening tail. He brilliantly portrays the salesman archetype with intoxicating turn of phrases and tempting sexuality. Matthew Trumbull as the endearing academic gives a polished performance as the study obsessed professor bloodletting his relationship in pursuit of usable data. Yvonne Roen shakes up the narrative near the end of the play with her strong presence giving Claire a hard edge with an extremely soft center.
Einhorn’s powerful directorial vision is evident in every moment. This is the fourth play I have seen in his cannon and the works are always meticulously executed with a great eye for emotional detail. Set designer, Jim Boutin, video Designer Magnus Pind Bjerre, Lighting designer Jeff Nash and sound designer Sadah Espii Proctor have created a lush, emotional world that prickle the senses and provide the emotional subtext inherent in the text. Ramona Ponce’s Costume Design beautifully articulate the essential nature of the character’s personality.
It’s a thought provoking work. However, I think it could do with some editing and a clear choice of ending (there seemed to be a few false endings) as there was a little repetition of idea in places. Warning: It’s thematically exhilarating and prompts hours of discussion post viewing.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Neurology of the Soul runs February 8 – March 2, at he A.R.T./New York Theatres, in the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre (502 West 53rd Street) For more information visit www.untitledtheater.com.
Thu – Sat at 8pm, Sun Feb 10 & 24 at 5pm, Tue Feb 12 & 26 at 7pm
Tickets: $20 – $30, call 212-352-3101 or visit untitledtheater.com