nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
January 10, 2006
Impostors, part of NEUROfest, begins with a car crash. Andrew Caruso, an introspective college student, is broadsided while making a left turn; he is uninjured but his older brother, Vincent, in the passenger seat, ends up with a fairly serious head injury. When Vincent wakes up, he recognizes Andrew, but is absolutely convinced that his parents have been replaced by nearly-but-not-quite identical substitutes, for some sinister purpose. In attempting to understand and cure Vincent’s condition—identified later as Capgras Syndrome—the family turns to Paul Mancini, an old friend of both Peggy and Frank Caruso (the parents) who has become a renowned neurologist overseas. But the return of Paul into their lives has some unintended consequences for the entire family, as he brings up long-buried memories and old secrets that seem as if they might break up the Caruso family entirely.
Capgras Syndrome is an extremely rare neurological condition in which, it is thought, the visual centers of the brain (through which we recognize familiar faces) become disconnected from the emotional centers (through which we feel connected to those familiar faces). It generally affects some—but not necessarily all—of the most important relationships in the person’s life. The result is that although a person with Capgras intellectually connects the faces he sees in front of him with his parents, sibling, spouse, etc., he feels no emotional response; unable to cope with the disconnect, and unwilling to realize its own disorder, the brain constructs an explanation that accounts for the scenario: these aren’t his parents.
But as fascinating as Capgras Syndrome is, Impostors isn’t mainly, or even mostly, about Vincent and the consequences of this disorder. Author Justin Warner uses Vincent’s condition as a leaping-off point to write a play about the themes it raises: nature versus nurture, what it means to be a “real” father or mother or son, the differences in how parents react to different children. It’s an idea with a lot of potential, but it isn’t fully realized here. I think this is partly because the connection between Vincent’s journey and the family’s larger issues hinges on a not-very-believable contrivance: that this ordinary lower-middle-class family happens to know a world-renowned neurologist, who also happens to hold the key to some family secrets. The developing and historical relationships among Paul, Andrew, Peggy, and Frank drive the action, but they feel built on a questionable premise.
The structure of the play is a bit clumsy, relying heavily on expositional monologues between scenes. These are mostly delivered by Andrew (with a few by his parents); as played by Anthony Bagnetto, he’s a charming and engaging narrator, but I felt a little frustrated at not seeing and hearing more of Vincent, and his understanding of this whole situation. Also, while some of the monologues themselves are lovely, they make the play feel slow and choppy, and also often duplicate information that is later told—and told more interestingly—in the scenes. Ari Laura Kreith’s staging, which provides sharp physical breaks between scene and monologue, doesn’t help with the choppiness.
Where the play succeeds most is in its depiction of the Caruso family itself, with or without neurological disorder, especially the relationship between the deeply religious Peggy and the aggressively regular-guy Frank (wonderfully portrayed by Sherry Skinker and Nick Raio). Warner does a terrific job of making us feel the weight of the history between these two people, who often don’t understand each other, sometimes don’t even like each other very much, but who have never really questioned their commitment to each other—until now. The actions of the play throw off all of Peggy’s certainties about the world, sending her on a spiritual quest that may—or may not—be resolved when she returns home at the end of the play.