Sunday, January 15, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

A young scientist meets a young woman at a party. She is in the kitchen crying and they strike up a conversation. She is distraught because she broke up with her fiancé two days ago. In one of the fastest hops into bed, she promises him 15 minutes of sex and 45 minutes of crying and they go for it.

In Hannah Moscovitch’s play Infinity, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre, there is a lot more than merely man-meets woman because the two people have concerns about time that go far beyond the chronological parameters of coitus and bawling.
 Amy Rutherford and Paul Braunstein. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Elliot (Paul Braunstein) is a theoretical physicist working on his doctorate on the question of time. Carmen (Amy Rutherford) is a composer/violinist and time plays a crucial role in her profession. The two marry and have a daughter, Sarah Jean (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) who is a brilliant mathematician but leads an emotionally troubled life.

The play has a fourth character, a violinist (Andrea Tyniec) who appears a number times on stage or behind a translucent  backdrop and plays music by Njo Kong Kie.    

Part of the play is a domestic drama. Carmen becomes pregnant, the couple argue, fight and separate. Sarah Jean in a series of monologues tells some funny and harrowing stories in very salty language about affairs with professors and other men. We see her as an eight-year old throwing a temper tantrum and arguing vociferously. Endicott-Douglas gives a superb performance in this fine role.

Elliot is consumed by his work and his theories about time and he neglects his wife. There are the inevitable arguments and separation. 

Andrea Tyniec. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann 
That is only a part of the story. Moskovitch wants to examine a loftier theme and the question of time. Is time just an illusion? Does it exist at all? Is it something like a story from the Bible that we were taught and simply believe in it? Mr. Einstein?

Moscovitch does not take the issue lightly. She retained Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist (Yale, Penn State, Princeton and now The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Waterloo) as a consultant so we can be sure that what is said about time is mind-blowing if not entirely comprehensible to mere mortals.

Braunstein gives a nuanced performance as the brilliant scientist who is also very much human. Rutherford’s Carmen is more a dissatisfied wife than a brilliant musician. Is the violinist her alter ego on stage? The music no doubt keeps emphasizing the theme of time and structurally takes the play well beyond any idea that it is a domestic drama but I am not sure about its relationship to Carmen.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann 
The set by Teresa Przybylski consists of a white background with horizontal lines that covers the entire stage. Aside from that only a chair and a table are needed. It is very effective.

Ross Manson does a splendid job of directing this co-production of Volcano and Tarragon Theatre of a play that is both complex and approachable.

In the end we don’t learn if time is real or illusory. We are told the fine distinction between the scientific idea of infinity and the religious notion of the same that sees it as eternity. What catches up with Elliot is mortality and if some of us want to consider it illusory or real we can enjoy the real illusion that we have a choice between infinity and eternity.       

Infinity by Hannah Moscovitch continues until January 29, 2017 at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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