by Brittany Crowell
What is marketing? How does it work? According to Neurology of the Soul’s neuromarketing executive, Mark, marketing is actually all about love. Blind taste tests show us that Coca-cola doesn’t taste better than Pepsi, but it has established itself as a brand we love and therefore, we are more loyal to it. This is just one of the many interesting ideas being explored in Edward Einhorn’s play.
Neurology of the Soul, by Untitled Theater Company No. 61, explores ideas of art and love through the lens of marketing and neurology. The play is at its strongest during the lectures of marketing executive Mark, however, falls short of the narrative stakes and honesty in performance that would make it an emotional, moving piece of theater.
Scientist Stephen and his subject (and wife), Amy, are reading neuro-scans to track and try to decipher the love-reaction in the brain. When Stephen is scouted by Neuro-marketer Mark to try to find and track the love-reaction between consumers and, let’s say, french fries, he and Amy move to New York City.
However, Stephen’s new boss, Mark, proves to have a deeper effect on Amy than the couple anticipated, convincing Amy to make art with his efforts to support her and give her a marketing edge. This causes the play to shift from a conversation about love between people and love between people and products to a conversation about the relationship between art and marketing and art and consumerism, an equally interesting conversation, but rather distracted from the original thought of the play: how love and marketing are connected and how our brains process both.
While introducing many intellectually interesting ideas, the piece struggles to give enough weight to the characters’ journeys and dreams. The lack of stakes for Stephen in his experiment, Amy in her art, and Mark in just about everything made it hard for me as an audience member to follow the emotional journey of the characters, even as I was intellectually stimulated by the play’s subject matter.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that the acting was universally ungrounded. Matthew Trumbull (Stephen) played the awkward scientist so uncomfortably that it was hard for the audience to sympathize or even root for him. Ashley Griffin’s Amy was uneven and while sometimes charming, other times felt tried and forced. Yvonne Roen’s Claire was over-confident and out of the same skin as her ex-husband, although claiming to be a very different person; we only saw truth and empathy from her during a scene late in the narrative. The only solid performance in the piece came from Mick O’Brien’s Mark, who felt every bit of the game-playing, win-focused, charming marketing man.
The piece was well-produced with a solid set of monochromatic colors (designed by Jim Boutin) that were lit beautifully by well-designed projections (by Magnus Pind Bjerre). However, transitions did feel unfortunately complicated, as the stagehands broke the fourth wall by opening a door into the hallway in order to remove furniture for the last scenes in a clunky, long, and unnecessary transition. The uneven costume design by Ramona Ponce gave us an amazing sense of Mark and Claire, while Amy’s design felt misguided, cheap, and unstylish.
As an intellectual exploration, Neurology of the Soul gives the audience a lot to think about and presents really interesting ideas, however, it falls short in incorporating those ideas into an intellectual narrative that serves to be more than an empty shell to hold the exploration of research and theme. Neurology of the Soul will give you something to think about, but the play falls short of reaching your soul.
NEUROLOGY OF THE SOUL – written and directed by Edward Einhorn
WITH: Mick O’Brien (Mark); Ashley Griffin (Amy); Yvonne Roen (Claire); Matthew Trumble (Stephen)
Sets by Jim Boutin; video by Magnus Pind Bjerre; costumes by Ramona Ponce; lighting by Jeff Nash; sound by Sadah Espii Proctor; assistant video, Tiffany Lee; Neurosales logo by Eric Mueller; consulting artists: Tom Berger, Kathe Mull, Becca Silbert; stage management by Berit Johnson; wardrobe by Melissa Roth; rigging by Janet Clancey; assistant rigger, John Dyer; carpentry by Mark Gentsch; electrics by Kelly wright; productin assistants, Chelcie Parry, Ruth Waverly. Presented by Untitled Theater Company No. 61; Edward Einhorn, artistic director. At A.R.T. / New York, Stage 2 (502 West 53rd Street); 866-811-4111; www.untitledtheater.com; Through March 2. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.