At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
Written and directed by Rob Kempson
Set and costumes by Anna Treusch
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: Alison Deon
The last in a trilogy of plays dealing with power in education and the various dilemmas that arise when students, parents and teachers engage and clash. Rob Kempson always creates challenging situations in his plays. Lots to ponder in this one.
The Story. Gabriella is a single parent and a math teacher. She is ready to go a bit wild and joins the world of Instagram with the intension of hooking up with a man for some dating fun. She has met someone on the internet and a rendezvous has been arranged. Gabriella is thrilled with the constant tweets and notices from her impending date. Her friend Susan is a substitute teacher and guidance counsellor in the same school where Gabriella teaches. She is single and pregnant. There is no man involved. Susan wants to be a parent and went to a clinic so that could happen naturally. Jackson is a teenager in the school where both women teach. He is not doing well in trigonometry and needs a high mark in order to win a sports scholarship. Gabriella is Jackson’s math teacher. The three characters are joined in their own way like a triangle.
The Production. The set by Anna Treusch is terrific. The audience is on either side of the playing area. Extensive mathematical formulae are painted in white on one (black) wall and over most of the (black) floor of the playing area. There is a long table in the centre of the space and a chair. As Susan, Alison Deon sits in the chair nibbling her sandwich. Susan is obviously pregnant and is hungry all the time. I’ve never seen a grownup nibble as sparingly as Alison Deon does on that sandwich. Just an observation. As Gabriella, Rose Napoli bursts into the room, cell phone in hand, thumbing out her messages and texts, delighting in every reply. Napoli is gleeful and pre-occupied with her Instagram friend but still gives Susan some of her attention.
When Gabriella interacts with Jackson, Napoli is formidable. Sharp, abrasive, almost condescending and combative. Jackson has put Gabriella in a corner and she fights like a tiger to get out of it. As Jackson, Daniel Ellis has that easy grace of a teen in control, who knows how to navigate his techno world at the expense of someone who doesn’t. Jackson has that sense of entitlement that is exasperating and frightening because the education system has changed to the point that the student and the unseen parents have the power. Jackson is also in his own tight corner. He needs to get that scholarship or his parents will really put the screws on him, or so he says to his teachers. In his dealings with Susan Jackson again regains the upper hand. He is not insecure when he faces her, even when she drops her bombshell of information. He is in control. Alison Deon, as Susan on the other hand is hesitant, awkward and certainly at a disadvantage. If I have a quibble, it’s that Rob Kempson has written Susan as too awkward and stammering. Her inarticulation slows down the pace and makes the scene frustrating to listen to. I don’t think that’s the intent. I can appreciate that Susan is certainly in an awkward position when dealing with Jackson but I think with less stammering and inarticulation, the same effect can be achieved and still grip the audience.
Rob Kempson also directs his play. He does it with great style and pacing that accelerates over the fast 75 minutes of the play. He knows how to establish each dynamic of this triangle.
Comment. I wish my high school trigonometry class, eons ago, was as bracing, intriguing and compelling as Rob Kempson’s play Trigonometry. This is the third in his Graduation Plays. In each play he creates a series of problems with a different focus but always set in the world of education. Kempson knows whereof he speaks because not only is he an accomplished playwright, he is also a substitute teacher in the education system.
Kempson has packed Trigonometry full of dilemmas that each character in this triangle creates for the others. Is it too much? Perhaps, but the result certainly leaves one with a lot to ponder in trying to figure out how various situations could be solved or dealt with. He certainly has created a world that is frighteningly credible. With Jackson we see a savvy student who almost defines a sense of entitlement. He is tech smart and knows how to navigate that world. Gabriella is the neophyte navigating the internet and Instagram world without a clear sense of the implications. But in her world as teacher she is formidable. Susan is emotionally needy. All three play the other in shifting the angles on this triangle. Sometimes it’s breathtaking in the execution. It is always engrossing.
First performance: March 16, 2017.
I saw it: March 18, 2017.
Closes: March 25, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 75 minutes.