Review: Infinity

by Lynn on April 2, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Ross Manson
Set and Costumes by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Choreographed by Kate Alton
Composed by Njo Kong Kie
Starring: Paul Braunstein
Haley McGee
Amy Rutherford
Andréa Tyniec

A compelling play about the theory of time and how it relates to reality written by Hannah Moscovitch who makes it all accessible.

The Story. At the beginning of the play, Elliot is working on his PhD thesis in theoretical physics. He is studying the theory of time. He accidentally meets Carmen at a party. She is in the kitchen crying because of the recent break up with her fiancée. Carmen is a composer and violinist. She is not ready for a new relationship. Elliot is smitten. They have a relationship; then a marriage and parenthood. Sarah Jean is the daughter of Carmen and Elliot. She is a mathematician.

In her play Infinity, Hannah Moscovitch creates a story in which we follow each character as they deal with their own relationship with time, their time with the others in the play, and finally how their relationships with each other and their original theories change, over time.

The Production. Director Ross Manson has created a production of seamless collaboration between the cast (of course), set and costume designer Teresa Przybylski, lighting designer Rebecca Picherack, composer Njo Kong Kie and violinist Andréa Tyniec. Przybylski’s set is simple with a back wall and floor covered in gently curved lines as if they are the striation marks in rocks from glaciers—the marks are erosion over time—a neat effect, if that is the intent. Depending on Rebecca Picherack’s lighting the wall appears to be solid or see-through. A long table is used for many purposes. There is one chair. Njo Kong Kie’s pulsing music played with focused intensity by André Tyniec provides a throbbing sense of momentum. Dressed in a white form-fitting gown Tyniec often stands behind the wall; visible to us because of Picherack’s lighting, and beautifully establishes the emotion of the scene and the characters with her energetic playing of the violin.

Paul Braunstein plays Elliot and does a fine job of realizing the many facets of the man. Most important Elliot is first a theoretical physicist, pre-occupied first with finishing his PhD and later working on other theories that occupy his time. To him time is an illusion to be reasoned into a theory. Later when he realizes time is finite, it provides another impetus, to prove another theory. Braunstein also brings out the sweet quality of Elliot. He is charmed by Carmen when they first meet and by her emotion outbursts. Moscovitch has written a perceptive, thoughtful character in Elliot.

Carmen is as focused on time as Elliot is, but in a different way. As a musician time is tangible to Carmen, placing it in the music is a delicate, detailed endeavour. Amy Rutherford’s performance of Carmen is emotional, sometimes tempestuous, occasionally irrational, but always human. Carmen’s heart is so obvious in Rutherford’s sensitive playing of her.

Sarah Jean, played by Haley McGee, has a mix of both parents in her make-up. She is almost inexpressive in her demeanour as her father Elliot sometimes is. But she is highly emotional as her mother Carmen is. McGee conveys Sarah Jean’s changing attitudes and emotional make-up over several years. The play flips back and forth in time and we see Sarah Jean as a precocious, loud, petulant eight-year-old, and later as an almost unsmiling PhD student coping with some emotional upheaval. The shifts in time are subtle but obvious in McGee’s performance.

I particularly appreciate Moscovitch’s playfulness in her writing of Sarah Jean when she is an adult. Sarah Jean’s speeches are full of deliberate pauses. One can imagine the words on the page separated by dots, each dot representing a moment in time, and the gifted McGee has to decide how much time to devote to each pause. It’s the speech of a mathematician who appreciates the power of numbers and what each one represents.

Comment. Theoretical physics, string theory, mathematical theory. It’s easy to assume this heavy stuff can be daunting in a play. They aren’t daunting at all in Infinity. Moscovitch has created this theoretical world of her characters. They toss and lob references to this theory or that. We are not expected to be familiar with them. We are expected to realize this is the reality of her characters. They are also wonderfully human in all their awkward, funny, fragile way.

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch has been working on Infinity on and off for seven years. She was commissioned by Ross Manson, artistic director of Volcano Theatre, to write a play about time and how we contend with it, deal with it, cope with it. It’s a fascinating subject that affects us all—time, dealing with it; coping with it. Seeing Infinity is one way of using your time wisely.

A Tarragon Theatre and Volcano Theatre Co-Production.

Opened: April 1, 2015
Closes: May 3, 2015
Cast: 4; 1 man, 3 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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