By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
The downside of infinity, as the odd comic has noted, is that it’s really long getting to the end. But when does infinity start?
That’s one of the intriguing questions that engages us in the highly intriguing play currently running on the Theatre Network stage. It’s by Hannah Moscovitch, which means (according to the laws of probability) that its intellectual complexities will have very human dimensions and dramatic momentum. And that’s exactly what happens in Infinity, a play about Time that turns out, unbeknownst to two of its three characters, to be a story about Love.
Bradley Moss’s haunting production suspends the three characters — a theoretical physicist, a musician and a mathematician — in a multi-layered matrix of shimmering musical scores or scientific loops and orbits (as an early physics drop-out I’m going to just go ahead and imagine they’re conjuring string theory or something quantum). Ian Jackson’s projection designs are stunning; beautifully lit by Scott Peters, they create a kind of magic forest of abstractions.
It’s time that brings the characters together — and it’s time in the end that tears them apart. Carmen (Larissa Pohoreski), a musician and composer, and Elliott (Ryan Parker), a theoretical physicist, meet at a college party. She’s just broken up with her fiancée. He makes the overture (so to speak), attracted, as he explains, by the way that musicians “speak in intervals.” They have, he says, “a sense of what time is, that it doesn’t exist, it … slides.”
This is not a pick-up line that has had widespread currency in the history of dating. Carmen is amused. There’s more of chemistry than theoretical physics in the accelerated “slide” of time, including an unplanned pregnancy, that follows.
So suddenly then there’s a kid, Sarah Jean (Cayley Thomas), a marriage, a family. And a love story has expanded to become a family drama — and not a happy one, fractured as it is by a chronic shortage of time. One career, Carmen’s, is sacrificed to expedite the other, Elliott’s. That Carmen has lost a husband to a scientific mission of proving that time doesn’t exist has a sad irony all its own.
Elliott, who’s raced to finish his PhD, ever short of the time he doesn’t believe in, tells his daughter, age eight, that “time is a fake.” She is enraged (the girl gives great tantrum, full-bodied and floor-pounding). Time may be a construct but she wants the new alarm clock he’s promised her.
We’ve already met Sarah Jean, grown-up and a mathematician, in the opening scene of Infinity. Dismayed by the suggestion from a college roommate of yore that she’s “fucked up about love,” Sarah Jean, in denial, lays out for our perusal her long, grievance-riddled sexual history. It’s a chronicle of commitment avoidance. Love? A fake, a gambit, a trap. That’s what she’s concluded from her upbringing with an obsessive, driven father and a mother steeped in sorrow and resentment.
Moscovitch is a masterful writer of monologues for self-justifying characters who make a case for themselves and, anticipating our objections, make concessions and qualify every assertion. OK, I know what you’re thinking… they tell us. Sarah Jean is that character here. Thomas, who makes use (possibly overuse) of an extensive arsenal of sighs, of every pitch, duration, and volume, invests the self-centred, wary Sarah Jean with a convincing bundle of grievances and anxieties at every age. But it’s as the little kid version of Sarah Jean that the actor really shines.
Carmen, in Pohoreski’s performance, isn’t a very distinctly outlined character, and she seems gradually to disappear into vague plaintiveness in the course of the play. Partly, of course, that’s where the narrative is taking us. Carmen exists most fully in the musical interludes Pohoreski appears in the shadows to play. The music for unaccompanied violin is fierce and harsh, tuneless in its abstract patterns. It’s the music of anxiety and hostility, a veritable attack on the strings: Carmen’s version of string theory.
At the centre of the production, in Parker’s terrific, alert performance, is the nerdy brainiac who discovers nearly too late what his “theory of everything” is missing. Parker brings a charm, a charisma to the self-absorbed Elliott. The act of thinking, making intelligence active and compelling, is devilishly hard in the theatre. Parker — a resourceful actor who never relies on cliches except to springboard off them obliquely — owns it.
Moss’s production captures the jagged rhythms of Moscovitch’s love story. Like the musical interventions, tuned to pauses, silences, and outbursts. The director separates the characters in the wide darkness of the stage, too much distance between them, or clusters them uncomfortably close.
Mortality will in the end unmoor Elliott’s Einsteinian certainty that time isn’t real, only “a persistent illusion.” Time can run out; the future isn’t infinite. A love story gone wrong rights itself on that thought.
Theatre: Theatre Network
Written by: Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by: Bradley Moss
Starring: Ryan Parker, Cayley Thomas, Larissa Pohoreski
Where: Theatre Network at the Roxy, 8529 Gateway Blvd.
Running: through May 6
Tickets: 780-453-2440, theatrenetwork.ca