november 2016 | Volume 149
Long Division is a smart, fascinating mess. Peter Dickinson’s new script certainly shows off his knowledge of mathematics, but as an exercise in theatrical storytelling it doesn’t add up. (I’ll try not to let the obvious puns multiply but don’t count on it.) And Richard Wolfe’s Pi Theatre production doesn’t help. Despite employing some fine actors, Wolfe’s attempts to give theatrical life to what is essentially a series of dense monologues only add to the confusion.
Seven performers on a bare stage tell the audience about their coming together from different places, at different speeds and vectors, to a bar where their lives will intersect around a mysterious, violent event. Each actor gets a monologue to tell their part of the story, led off by the high school math teacher, Paul (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia). We also hear from the lesbian bar owner, Jo (Jennifer Lines); her waitress, Lucy (Melissa Oei); Reid (Jay Clift), the father of one of the girls in the math class; Alice (Kerry Sandomirsky), the mother of a boy in the class; the high school principal, Grace (Linda Quibell); and the local imam, Naathim (Anousha Alamian).
About half of each monologue is devoted to the plot. The other halves involve chats about various subjects—there seems little urgency to get to the heart of the mystery—and revolve around mathematical concepts that are often difficult to follow, especially when the narrative is competing with Owen Belton’s musical compositions or being upstaged by the other actors’ jerky movement sequences (choreographed by Lesley Telford). A lot of obscure mathematicians from the past get name-dropped, but at least we see their faces, painted onto the molecular-looking backdrop of Lauchlin Johnston’s set along with equations and graphs by Jamie Nesbitt’s wonderful projections.
A face we don’t get to see turns out to be the main character whose actions comprise the heart of the plot. For all the complex talk, there’s a theatrical absence at the centre that further abstracts the action and its meaning despite a powerful emotional cap from Sandomirsky. I have to admit I left the play without understanding why what happened happened.
Here’s one of my favourite lines from Long Division: “In math as in theatre it’s never about beating the odds—it’s about succumbing to them.” Great sentence, but I have no idea what it means, either in or outside the context of the play. Ultimately, don’t you have to wonder whether something is wrong with the equation?
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