Friday, February 3, 2017

Review of TimeLine Theatre Company's A Disappearing Number

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Disappearing Number. It was by Complicite, originally conceived and directed by Simon McBurney and devised by the original company. It was directed by Nick Bowling. It was about a man named Al (Kareem Bandealy) who falls in love with a mathematician named Ruth (Juliet Hart) who is fascinated with other mathematicians from the past like Srinivasa Ramanujan (Siddhartha Rajan) and G. H. Hardy (Dennis William Grimes). It tells the love story in a mixed-up order and connects it to the stories of Ramanujan and Hardy. It is about problem solving, true love, and discovery. I thought this was a really intriguing and challenging show. It made me think a lot about the complexity of math and how much more there is to learn that they don't teach us in seventh grade. They talk about math like they are talking about life.

The play starts with basically a math class, taught by Ruth. Then Aninda (Anish Jethmalani) snaps his fingers and the entire scene pauses and he starts talking to you. He says, "You are probably very confused right now." I think that was perfect, because he is literally reading a lot of our thoughts. And then he did a mathematical magic trick which he also read our minds for. He said, no matter what number you pick, if you do the math correctly, then I will know what your number is. I thought that was pretty cool and crazy. I thought this character talked to us like he understood how alarmed and confused we were and he ended up making us feel a lot more welcome at this play. I really liked how he explained things more simply. String theory is looking through a lens that connects everything in the world and that's basically Aninda's job, to study string theory. His character connects things for the audience before and after they happen.

The relationship between Ruth and Al was adorable but also pretty sad. I won't tell you the reason it is so sad; you have to find out for yourself. They have their problems, but they seem to be a pretty great power couple. You can see really deep into what their lives are like, which is sometimes depressing, sometimes hopeful, and sometimes funny. Their first meeting I felt like described their relationship really well: quirky, a little sassy, adorable, and full of curiosity. She notices that he has been sitting in on all her classes and listening very intently even though he is not a college student. He says he has one number he is curious about, and that is hers. I thought that was the worst but the best pick-up line to use on a mathematician. That wasn't even my favorite adorable relationship. I think my absolute favorite relationship was between Hardy and Ramanujan. They were relationship goals. They worked so well together. What made me think Hardy was in love with Ramanujan was how much he used the word friend and how he emphasized it. I'm not saying that they were lovers but I think it is likely that Hardy liked Ramanujan as more than a friend. The other love story is between almost everyone in the play and math. Math is basically the way everyone expresses themselves. The play shows the creativity and connection that is sparked in people when they see numbers on a page or a chalkboard.

There is a scene in a hotel, which is one of the cooler scenes because Ramanujan and Al are both moving things around in their rooms, which overlap on stage, to make it feel more like home, even though they are not really in the same place or same time. Then the cleaning lady (Anu Bhatt) brings apples in, which kinds of sparks the moving of Ramanujan's and Al's stuff simultaneously--because nobody really knows what to do with those apples! That is kind of funny, but I also thought this was a cool and effective scene because you see how these two worlds cross and how two other worlds will cross in the future because the cleaning lady and Al's lives will cross again.

Al keeps talking, every few scenes, with this woman Barbara (Arya Daire) in "London" (she is actually in India) about getting his wife's number transferred to his phone. He thinks the phone number is a puzzle. I thought some of these scenes were hilarious. It is relatable because you see someone having the same troubles with a customer service representative as a lot of people. They didn't do the thing he's asked them to do, but she still acts like they've done him an enormous favor. Barbara and Al seem to get a friendship over time and they start to tell each other things that they hadn't told anyone before, even though it was a customer and a customer service representative. It shows that you can find people who will connect with you in the most unlikely places.

People who would like this show are people who like phone number puzzles, string theory, and inconvenient apples. I thought this was a beautiful show. I've never seen a show like this before that gives you so much to learn and makes it so fun. Seeing the show is like solving a big long word problem; it is very satisfying and it also tells a story.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

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