It all looks perfectly scientific: the researcher in his cylindrical booth, speaking instructions into a microphone; the subject on her back, inside a machine that’s taking scans of her brain activity. A split screen displays side-by-side feeds of her blinking face and pulsing brain.
“I love you,” the rumpled researcher says into the microphone, and he is telling the truth, albeit in the name of data collection. He is Stephen, a cognitive neuroscientist, and the test subject is his wife, Amy. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, he wants to see inside her, to measure the impact of his words and find solid proof of her devotion to him.
Defective methodology, you say? His baseline assumptions are fatally flawed? Well, yes, and Edward Einhorn’s romantic dramedy “The Neurology of the Soul” is perfectly aware that Stephen (Matthew Trumbull) is on the wrong track. His quest, though, is sympathetic: to quell the insecurity that has dogged him since his early days with Amy (Ashley Griffin), when she was less than honest.
Instead, it only grows after Mark (Mick O’Brien), the slick-talking head of a neuro-marketing firm, entices Stephen to leave academia to work for him in New York, using cognitive neuroscience to gauge consumer response to products.
When Amy, an unknown artist, embarks on a video project based on her brain imagery, and Mark connects her with Claire (Yvonne Roen), the owner of a Chelsea gallery willing to give her a show, Stephen suspects that something is going on between his wife and his employer.
This is where the unevenness of Mr. Einhorn’s production, for his Untitled Theater Company No. 61, comes in. Onstage at A.R.T./New York Theaters, the production’s video design (by Magnus Pind Bjerre) and sound (by Sadah Espii Proctor) are excellent, particularly when Amy’s exhibition takes over the set (by James Boutin).
But in a play that juxtaposes art and science, love and money, private thoughts and public data, it feels like technology might have gotten a disproportionate share of directorial attention. With the exception of Mr. Trumbull’s admirably nuanced Stephen, the performances don’t spring compellingly to life.
Mark, with his many soliloquies about the beauty of neuro-marketing, comes across as a snooze-inducing windbag, while Claire is played largely as a caricature of a shallow art dealer. Amy — intriguing early on, addressing the audience while her brain is being scanned — is less convincing as a three-dimensional person when she interacts with other characters.
A series of off-target costumes (by Ramona Ponce) contributes to the inadvertent sense of artifice, especially when Amy arrives at her art opening looking like a rube in a red beret that Mark or Claire surely should tell her to remove immediately.
Stephen’s wardrobe of hard-core nerd sweaters, on the other hand, is nicely in keeping with his endearingly unreconstructed dorkdom — a shell of awkwardness that Mr. Trumbull cracks to reveal pain, self-awareness and strong-willed dignity.
It’s a subtle performance, the sneaky anchor to the show, and gradually we realize we’ve fallen for him. Now, would a brain scan back that up?
The Neurology of the Soul
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