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Incognito
THEATER REVIEW Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2010-05-12

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Playwright: Michael Sidney Fosberg. At: 16th Street Theater at the Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th St., Berwyn. Phone: 708-795-6704; $16. Runs through: May 29

If it is true that, as Benjamin Franklin once remarked, "He who serves his country well has no need of ancestors," then it's easy to dismiss the popular obsession with genealogy that followed on the heels of America's "melting pot" paradigm as an expression of egotistical dissatisfaction brought about by too much contemplative time. On the other hand, who has not, at some time, considered the possibility that they might be secretly descended from royalty or notoriety?

Michael Fosberg was an unemployed actor in his mid-30s when the news of his mother and stepfather's divorce aroused his curiosity over unanswered questions regarding his birth father. His tentative research into his family tree eventually revealed roots running far deeper and wider than his boyhood in a blue-collar Waukegan community had prepared him to endorse. To be sure, his newfound kin proved to be as nearly aristocracy as a child raised in a democracy could have imagined, but his joy is nevertheless tempered with ambivalence, acknowledgment, and, finally, acceptance of the difficult decisions faced by his parents during a time in our country's history characterized by a divisiveness barely conceivable today.

What distinguishes Incognito from the plethora of sentimental auld-sod panegyrics is that Fosberg's story is not the product of a safely detached romancer's projective—and inevitably prejudiced—fancies, but a candid first-person account narrated ( take a deep breath, now ) by its own central metaphor, rendering its author's onstage persona, literally, a Work of Art. At one point in the latter part of the 75-minute monologue, Fosberg asks us, "Did you know? Did you see me differently after I told you?"—a query suddenly breaching our defenses of smug complacency and forcing each of us to confront the degree to which we still rely upon superficial assumptions affirming our ignorant preconceptions.

Fosberg has been performing his one-man play ( which includes an array of vividly etched auxiliary personalities, portrayed with never a hint of cheap "accessibility" ) for nearly a decade in an astonishing variety of cultural enclaves—some of them reluctant, if not outright hostile, to the social repercussions implied by his personal journey. The courage reflected in Fosberg's continued willingness to share his experience is matched by that of Berwyn's 16th Street Theatre in hosting this still-provocative exploration of filial identity in a constantly fluctuating world.


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