|Brian Herndon & Jackson Davis|
“Together, we had a goose that would lay a golden egg; and when we didn’t, we had an omelet.”
Such is the memory of his many years in collaborative relationship with his thinking and research partner, Amos Tversky, that Daniel Kahneman recounts as he receives the 2002 Nobel Prize for Economics on both of their behalves. Based on their own theories and experiments on happiness, Daniel’s “remembering self” may be more aglow about all those years together than his “experiencing self” at the time actually felt – especially when things got particularly stormy, as they certainly did.
But clearly theirs was a magical experience as the two Israeli-born psychologists spent a good portion of their careers working in tandem. Daniel also remembers in giving Amos’s eulogy in 1996, “If one of us is saying something, the other understands it more than the one who said it.” Their years of delving into such topics as human decision-making and happiness through often avant-garde experiments like pulling red and white balls out of bags or rolling dice prior to asking for decisions are given highly captivating, thoroughly entertaining, and surprisingly touching treatment in Lynne Kaufmann’s Two Minds, now in world premiere at The Marsh.
Robert Kelley brings his almost fifty years of directing experience (over 150 productions as Artistic Director at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley alone) to direct this two-person, seventy-minute gem. His well-known touch of ensuring heart and humor always make their way into portraying onstage the human experience is evident throughout Two Minds – even when that portrayal involves a lot of intellectual arguing about the psychological ins and outs of human pondering and decision making.
Lynne Kaufman has written a play whose words – even technical ones that might be found in professional journals – flow freely in a fountain of information easy for the audience to comprehend. We lean forward to listen in some wonder and even often to giggle as we remember seeing ourselves acting and thinking in exactly the ways that the two enthusiastic researchers are describing that people often do.
|Brian Herndon & Jackson Davis|
But what really makes The Marsh’s Two Minds a not-to-be-missed production are the two actors before us who both bring to bear years of experience on stages throughout the Bay Area in helping these two intriguing, quirky, complex individuals come to full life. Brian Herndon as Amos Tversky and Jackson Davis as Daniel Kahneman leave no doubt in our minds that these university colleagues were the opposites in many respects but were also so symbiotic in stimulating their individual, creative and critical thinking abilities. And there is no question but they are as close as brothers could ever be – or as likely to have fights and cause hurt feelings.
Brian Herndon’s Amos is at times almost like a human jumping jack, hardly ever able to sit still as his enthusiasm for reacting to ideas and postulates that Jackson throws at him takes over his entire being. As a mathematical psychologist, he is more literal than his partner, declaring unabashedly, “I hate metaphors … They replace genuine uncertainty with fake ambiguity.” Even when just talking to Daniel, Amos speaks as if on a podium, elongating certain words for added emphasis and going up and down in velocity and volume as if on a verbal rollercoaster. He tosses into the air with impish twinkles in his eyes provocative statements like, “Some people believe in artificial intelligence; we believe in universal stupidity.” He seems to do so in order to provoke another new idea from Daniel that he can possibly refute with vigor in order to test its validity. Brian Herndon’s performance heats up the room with Amos’ never-failing energy and willingness to pick a battle, even fighting vehemently with Daniel whether they should use the word “reiterate” or “repeat” in a paper’s postscript.
Just watching a few minutes of Jackson Davis’ Daniel Kahneman in action at his desk, and the contrasts between him and his research sparring buddy become quickly evident. Daniel’s thinking is often done as he sprawls his lanky legs either in front of him or on his desk (except when he is pounding slowly and loudly on a portable typewriter as Amos dictates something to him). He contemplates and communicates with his head often cocked and his eyes focused forward and downward. He is the dreamer of new ideas and the schemer of new experiments – leading Amos to tell him, “You spew out new ideas like vomit.” He usually vocalizes more tentatively and softly than his partner; but certainly when fully aroused in excited eagerness or maddening irritation (both of which likely directed at Amos), his Daniel certainly can have his own emotional eruptions. And while Amos clearly relishes some the external attention and awards he receives (and in winning the coin toss so that his name can appear first on their papers), Daniel tells Amos with almost tears in his eyes, “I never needed the world’s approval; I needed yours.”
All is not a rosy bed for these two collaborators and friends as we learn, but the love and devotion of the two for each other is always there in the portrayals these two actors so ably provide us – even when trouble and sense of abandonment creeps in. The seventy minutes of Lynne Kaufman’s script fly by so quickly under Robert Kelley’s direction and the brilliant, sensitive, and multi-faceted performances of Jackson Davis and Brian Herndon, that I for one wished the end was only the intermission. Another half of the funny, heart-warming, and yes, educating story would have been very welcomed.
Rating: 5 E
Two Mindscontinues through June 9, 2018, playing Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street. Tickets are available online at https://themarsh.org/.
Photo Credit: David Allen
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