The plays of Hannah Moscovitch are smart, sassy and sophisticated. Her themes run deep and reflect her keen intelligence. Her strong characters and sharp dialogue can’t help but lure the audience. But here comes the “but”…Moscovitch might be writing about people in crisis, but her plays are medium cool. I admire her artistry but I’m rarely engaged emotionally. She is a playwright for the mind, and it’s important to note that an evening spent with her in the theatre is always stimulating.
Her new play Infinity is a case in point. The central focus is the troubled marriage between theoretical physicist Elliot (Paul Braunstein) and violinist/composer Carmen (Amy Rutherford). Both come from troubled families, and their brilliant mathematician daughter Sarah Jean (Haley McGee) is carrying the tradition of inherited family dysfunction into the next generation. Although the play is filled with sturm und drang, the characters never touch the heart. Rather, our minds are awhirl as we grapple with Moscovitch’s fusion of quantum physics and real life.
Apparently director Ross Manson suggested to Moscovitch the idea of the concept of time and its impact on humanity as a springboard for a play. As Manson writes in his program notes, he was particularly interested in how we cope with time, and being caught inside something so much bigger than ourselves. In fact, Moscovitch worked with noted physicist Lee Smolin in hammering out the imaginary Elliot’s Ph.D. thesis on time. The play might be fiction, but the science in the play is the real thing.
The acting is superb. McGee proves once again that she is one of the most talented young actors currently treading the boards. As the child Sarah Jean, she is a perfect horror replete with tantrums and whining. Her stunted adult Sarah Jean is disturbingly matter-of-fact in recounting her hopeless relationships with men. Braunstein’s Elliot is masterful in his own domain as a pioneer of quantum physics. As a husband, however, he is a picture of total bewilderment. Elliot just wants to finish his thesis, and can’t understand the demands of his needy wife. Rutherford’s Carmen may be a gifted musician, but her emotional snake pit has turned her into a shrew. The three are trapped in a dysfunctional time continuum – victims of their own making.
An additional key element is the marvellous original music for solo violin composed by Njo Kong Kie and performed with unadulterated passion by Andréa Tyniec. Clearly, part of Manson’s directorial vision is that Tyniec’s outpouring of music represents the inner turmoil of the characters, as well as referencing Carmen’s composing skills. As a wandering player, this very talented musician completes the big picture by being the thoughts unspoken. Dancer Kate Alton is listed as choreographer so one assumes she had a hand in Tyniec’s effective movement and positioning in relation to the actors.
Manson directs with an eye to the jugular. He never lets extraneous movement get in the way of the dialogue. His characters have something to say and he makes sure that they say it. He is aided by Teresa Przybylski’s striking claustrophobic set of a wrap-around scrim and floor pad bearing parallel lines that resemble both a music staff and a graph of string theories.
In the final analysis, Moscovitch has crafted a fascinating picture of what consulting physicist Smolin calls in his program notes “disordered brilliance”.
(Hannah Moscovitch’s Infinity runs at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace Mar. 25 to May 3.)