Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mathematics as Poetry on the London Stage

While in London earlier this week we saw a thought-provoking drama called "A Disappearing Number," from the highly regarded experimental theater Complicite (the director, Simon McBurney, directed the revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," which just opened on Broadway with Katie Holmes).

The play was amazing - interweaving the story of the famous Indian mathematician Ramanujan with a contemporary story of a tragic love affair between a mathematics professor (who sees beauty and poetry in her beloved equations) and a globetrotting business executive (who much as he tries, just can't see what she sees). The story was brilliantly couched in the context of the mathematical concept of infinity, representing the continuum and interconnections of life, past, present and future. If it sounds like the story was complicated, it was - but incredibly moving.

McBurney liberally incorporates multimedia into his staging - there was an Indian tabla musician onstage the whole time playing a sort of underscore to the drama, and film clips were often projected on a screen that was part of the set (and often projected onto the actors themselves). The whole thing was staged as if it were choreographed, even though it is hardly a musical. Fascinating evening of theater.

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