Long Division presents math as a metaphor for human connection

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

Long Division | Pi Theatre at Gateway Theatre | November 17 – 26, 2016

When I go to the theatre, I don’t really want to feel like I’m at a university lecture or a didactic educational play that is trying to no-so-subtly feed me information in between bits of disjointed plot. Unfortunately Peter Dickenson’s Long Division felt like this.

I understand that the educational nature of the story was intentional, but the plot was interrupted too often to let me get into the story, which was intriguing. I wanted to hear more about Paul, the poor math genius who was bullied in high school, about the way the lives of the seven characters onstage intersected, and how everything lead up to the climactic event at Paul’s high school. We never see Paul, instead seven characters tell us his story in fragments.  

Opening with all seven actors weaving around the stage, barely missing colliding into each other, the choreography by Lesley Telford was a unique way to open the show and prepared me for a unique story. The choreography re-appeared a few times throughout but only served as a distraction as background characters performed small movement sequences while another delivered a monologue.

While it was interesting to learn a bit about famous mathematicians and be reminded of the beauty of certain mathematical phenomena such as the Fibonacci sequence, the math puns felt forced and repetitive, and the abundance of monologues didn’t help to draw us into the story.  

The seven characters are all on their way to the same bar, run by the affable Jo (Jennifer Lines). They share their perspective of that night and the events leading up to a tragic ending. With so many monologues, this is a tough play for the actors involved, but often their attempts to bring depth to the material fell flat. It still felt like a tutorial.  

Anousha Alamian as Naathim Zaidi, an Imam, was the most likable character, and I enjoyed his explanation of prime numbers in the Quran. But his inclusion in the story felt a bit contrived in the end. I got the feeling that an Islamic character was included in order for him to be able to deliver that information to us.  

I applaud Dickenson’s efforts to combine mathematics and human relationships, to draw connections between them and metaphorically represent mathematical concepts through things like high school cliques, but this felt less like a play and more like an academic essay being acted out. The concepts and metaphors were all very strong, but they didn’t translate to the stage in a way that held my attention. I couldn’t get invested in the story.

Just like an academic essay, the play included section titles which only served to further pull me out of the story and make it feel like I should be paying more attention to the concepts being presented. In the end, I did like the idea of parallel lines diverging and then meeting up again when applied to human relationships; there were a handful of these thought provoking concepts that I left the theatre thinking about, but overall this play didn’t come together as a brilliant piece of theatre — it seems more like an impressive piece of writing that needs a bit more finessing to translate better to the stage.      

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn