Infinity: A Play Review - The Physics of Math and Emotion

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch Infinity, a play by Hannah Moskovitch that has returned as a result of popular demand from its 2014-2015 season at the Tarragon Theatre.

My fellow naive, amateur theatre-goers and I assumed, based on Infinity’s description, that it would be a night similar to our last outing some six months prior at SummerWorks festival, Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife written by Andrea Scott. That particular play touched on important social topics from feminism to historical revisionism, as we thought Infinity might as well. After all, the play’s three main characters are a musical composer, a theoretical physicist, and a mathematician.

The description on reads: “How does a new Theory of Time change everything we know about ourselves? Three brilliant minds–a musician, a mathematician, and a theoretical physicist–smash together like colliding particles in an accelerator. Together they learn that love and time are connected in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Infinity is a shocking, funny and revelatory play about love, sex, and math.”

In fact, the play consulted Lee Smolin, a physics professor from the University of Toronto, to provide accuracy on subjects beyond the understanding of most attendees that would be crammed together in Tarragon’s hot, echo-y Extraspace. Over the course of the 80 minutes, we realised how wrong our assumptions had been. The use of anything intellectual (math or physics) was a mere backdrop in a play that was, in essence, a family drama.

Surprisingly, I was disappointed by the lack of theoretical physics in the play, but the raw emotions filled the disappointment rather fittingly. Vivian Endicott-Douglas, playing daughter Sarah Jean Green, toggles between a twenty-something and an 8-year-old version of herself, going back in time to revisit crucial moments in her childhood and to learn how her relationship with her parents (the physicist and musician) caused her to be emotionally stunted. The actress’ performance is particularly impressing. In mere seconds, she seemlessly switches from a child throwing a full-blown temper tantrum to a nervous college grad.

Unfortunately, the other characters do not call for such praise. For instance, Elliot Green (Paul Braunstein), the character who is a father and physicist, was not developed enough, keeping the audience from sympathizing with him during moments where unfortunate incidents were supposed to tug on our heart-strings.

On the subject of strings, the dialogue was accompanied by live Njo Kong Kie compositions played by Andrea Tyniec during transitions. This, coupled with Teresa Przybylski’s elegant set, added relevant thematic layers to the performance. The wave-like set design was undoubtedly an ode to particle waves and musical notes. It was streamlined and focused, revealing how closely related we are to those we surround ourselves with, for better or for worse.

The play is quite relatable, as anybody with a dysfunctional family can understand. I caught myself wondering how my parents’ displays of love and emotion shaped how I see my sexual relationships today. This play is guaranteed to resonate with those exercising the healthy practice of introspection, and those who enjoy looking at how truths about our past can explain the present.