Chicago Theatre Review
The Beauty of Patterns
A Disappearing Number – Timeline Theatre
“A mathematician, like a painter, or a poet, is a maker of patterns…and beauty is the first test.” This idea forms the basis of this gorgeous, mind blowing drama, cowritten by the Theatre de Complicite and devised by British playwright Simon McBurney. The 2007 play depicts a unique collaboration between two pure mathematicians during the early 20th century. Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young Indian wrote a letter to Cambridge University scholar G.H. Hardy in which he proved a unique mathematical equation, an application of the Riemann zeta function, that eventually became the foundation of the string theory.
The play interweaves the relationship between Ramanujan and Hardy with a tale of two modern-day people, for whom the beauty and order of math becomes a powerful aphrodisiac. That story focuses on an Indian-American futures trader named Al and his fascination, love for and marriage to Ruth, an English mathematics professor. Both stories merge, separate and combine once again. Ruth travels to India to walk in the steps of her idol, Ramanujan while, a century earlier, the young Indian mathematics genius traveled in the opposite direction to meet and work with Dr. Hardy in England. After her death, Al follows the path Ruth traveled during the final days of her life and comes to fully understand the beauty of patterns.
This Chicago production is directed with power, passion and innovative creativity by associate artistic director Nick Bowling. Scenes burst out of the darkness into the light and race by theatergoers with the speed of the internet. The production design by William Boles is alley style, with the audience seated on either side of the long, rectangular playing area. The floor is etched with complicated mathematical equations and at either end of the room are Ruth’s university lecture hall and Hardy’s office at Cambridge. Projections by Rasean Davonte Johnson elevate the production, while the sound design by Mikhail Fiksel and original live music performed by Ronnie Malley (alternating with Bob Garrett) add a definite authenticity to the performance.
TimeLine Theatre has once again cast an unbelievably talented ensemble of actors to tell the story. Always excellent in any role he plays, Kareem Bandealy is Al, a man consumed at first by his obsession with the woman who would eventually become his wife, and later by the journey that took her to India during her final days. Equally excellent in this role is Juliet Hart as Ruth. Mastering an authentic British dialect, the professional dignity of her chosen profession and a commanding excitement for mathematics, Ms. Hart plays a woman whose biological clock is ticking. The chemistry between these two characters is fierce and wonderful to share.
Siddhartha Rajan, a recent Roosevelt University graduate, is charming and earnest as the young Indian mathematics wizard, Ramanujan. His portrayal is earnest, heartfelt and true against Dennis William Grimes’ theory-driven portrayal of British professor G.H. Hardy. Together, these two actors, along with Anish Jethmalani, as Aninda, the audience’s guide for the evening, demonstrate to audiences that mathematics is exciting and filled with so much beauty within its intricate poetry and patterns.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 11-April 9 by TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-281-8463 or by going to www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.