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Mysteries swirl in storm clouds in Nick Payne’s “Incognito,” which opened on Tuesday night at City Center Stage I, enough to fill many seasons of cliffhanger soap operas. The subjects of these tantalizing puzzles include questions of paternity, a man who murdered his wife on their 30th wedding anniversary, the secrets that lovers keep from each other and the disappearance of an essential anatomical part of a great scientist.

Yet the biggest mystery of all, the one that dominates every aspect of this lively, self-examining drama of ideas, is the very apparatus that you’re using to make sense of this sentence. I mean your brain.

Granted, it’s somebody else’s brain — the one that belonged to Albert Einstein — that’s at the center of “Incognito,” which embroiders the true story of a Princeton pathologist who spirited away that epochal physicist’s gray matter after performing an autopsy. But really, it’s everybody’s brain that’s being subjected to such probing and exasperated analysis in a work that — directed by Doug Hughes and enacted by a sparkling cast of four — deserves to be called cerebral in every conceivable sense of the word.

Restless intellectualism is only to be expected of Mr. Payne, the young British playwright who is fast becoming the theater’s equivalent to Prof. Brian Cox, the heartthrob science nerd of the BBC. In Mr. Payne’s“Constellations,” the glorious two-character play staged on Broadway last year with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, he applied string theory and quantum mechanics to endlessly fragment and refract the basic boy-meets-girl plot.

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Image: By Gaetan Lee from London, UK – Human brain – please add comment or fav this if you blog with it., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4624928

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