Final Bow: Geneva Carr Retrieves Her Favorite Incognito Memories
How Nick Payne's neuroscience drama made this Tony nominee's Janet Jackson music video dreams come true.
"I fought so hard to do this show," said Geneva Carr, who signed on to the U.S. premiere of Nick Payne's Incognito just four months after ending her Tony-nominated run in Robert Askins' dark comedy Hand to God. "Hand to God was such an amazing life-affirming experience — I was so afraid that I wouldn't get on the horse again." Fortunately, a fresh Tony nod got her in a room with Tony-winning director Doug Hughes and landed her a place among Payne's American quartet, which also features Charlie Cox, Morgan Spector, and Heather Lind.
Each of the actors takes on several roles as Payne's nonlinear drama explores concepts of neuroscience, psychology, and the elusive idea of a "self." One moment Carr is Martha, a middle-aged divorcée finding new love with a woman named Patricia (Lind). The next she is Elouise Harvey, wife to scientist Thomas Harvey who has stolen Albert Einstein's brain for his own rogue research.
After the play ends its extended run at Manhattan Theatre Club's New York City Center - Stage I on July 10, Carr is off to the world of television as a series regular on the new CBS drama Bull. But before she takes her leave from the stage, she took some time to answer a few questions about her playful jaunt in Payne's brainy world.
1. What is your favorite line that you deliver?
[In a British accent] "If you can't remember who you are then you aren't really anyone." Which is so sad. But it's also the way to live. Be in the present moment and be honest about who you are. You have to be honest about who you are to be able to be somebody.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I have never worked with cheekier actors in my life. The boys actually broke last week. When Charlie says, "Kansas has more rainbows than any other state. Fact. Science." Morgan and Charlie started laughing. We were all hanging on by a thread.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
Looking at that [prop] brain and not laughing. Sometimes I can see things floating in it. It's a plastic school brain chopped up, but there's an extra little piece that looks like an earlobe and I just can't take it.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
One woman came to the show and she loved it so much that she came back and she gave each of us a card with a coupon for a coffee at Starbucks. Another gift we got is Josie Maran Cosmetics. Heather and I have to kiss in the show and the two of us are so worried about getting lipstick on the other that she called Josie Maran Cosmetics and they sent us the lipstick that doesn't wear off. That was an amazing gift. I can kiss her for days and it stays on my mouth.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Sally Field came. She came backstage and she was so lovely. She had so many interesting things to say about the play and I said, "What did you think of the dancing?" And she said, "I didn't get it. And I loved it."
6. Speaking of the choreography, how did it come to be in the show?
Doug [Hughes] had this idea that he wanted to separate the three sections of the play — Encoding, Storing, and Retrieving — which are clinical terms for how you form a memory. He wanted to do something that was not intellectualized, so [choreographer] Peter [Pucci] came up with these movements. But in order to commit to them I had to come up with my own idea of what they mean. In the first one I'm in a Janet Jackson video. In the third one where it's like an angry precise gesturing I'm thinking, "Cake! Where's the f*cking cake! You said there would be cake!" And then when our arms are kind of in a circle around our head I just think, "Frosting. It's a cake as big as me and I'm just running my fingers through the frosting." Everybody makes fun of me, but I have to have something. I can't just gesture. I have to give it meaning.
7. Which of your characters do you relate to the most and why?
I've never done a play where I feel so different from all my characters. It's really fun to play — and it's really fun to play with accents too. You can almost separate yourself and fall in love with a character but you don't get confused about whether you are that character. Hand to God was tiring because I felt like I was Margery and so I went through that every day. In this show, I think I have the most compassion for Martha and what she's going through. But it's not me going through it.
8. If you lost your memory, like Charlie Cox's character, Henry, what skill do you think would stick with you like the piano has stuck with him?
One of my best friends Jane Hoffman was a very well-known theater actress, and I took care of her at the end of her life when she got Alzheimer's. When Jane's memory was going, her acting skills took over. People would say hi to her, and like Henry, she wouldn't have any idea who they were, but she could tell that she should, so she would fake it go, "Hi! Good to see you!" So my acting skills would take over. If my memory goes, I'm gonna fake it until I can't any longer.
9. Whose brain would you like to steal for scientific experimentation?
For a second I'd love to be in Hillary Clinton's brain, but I wonder if it wouldn't be more interesting to get in Trump's brain. I would also like to get into [my cat] Eartha Kitty's head because I wanna know what the hell's going on in there.
10. Incognito explores the idea of "self" and the different elements that shape it. What in your life had the greatest influence on the "self" that you turned out to be?
I moved constantly as a kid — like every six to eight months. I didn't do a school year in the same school until junior high. When I tell people that, it sounds terrible and traumatic. But as a kid, as opposed to it being a horrible negative thing, it was actually something amazing because it made me so open to adapting to wherever I was. I had so many interesting friendships and experiences because I just had to show up and make do with wherever we were. I think it's responsible for a part of me that's a lot more open than it would have been. To me, my home is wherever I make it.