Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Photo: Siddhartha Rajan portrays mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. (Lara Goetsch)
Review: A DISAPPEARING NUMBER at Timeline Theatre Company
By Rachel Weinberg
I had a bit of a revelation after seeing Timeline Theatre Company’s production of A DISAPPEARING NUMBER on Wednesday night. While the immediacy of Complicite’s 2007 play did not strike me immediately upon entering the theater (Timeline’s production is only the fourth staging in the United States), it struck me quite clearly on the journey home. A DISAPPEARING NUMBER spans time and geographical space to follow the narratives of multiple mathematicians—and their loved ones— in their numerical pursuits: the pursuit of patterns and equations, and ultimately, the pursuit of order.
In this challenging and dividing cultural moment, there can perhaps be no greater longing than the one to make order out of chaos. And that is precisely why the characters in A DISAPPEARING NUMBER are so drawn to mathematics: that universe follows a separate and orderly reality—a reality far more comforting than the one in which these individuals (and the audience members) find themselves. It is a startling and lovely resonance, reinforced by Timeline’s equally lovely production.
A DISAPPEARING NUMBER introduces us to three sets of characters. In the present, we meet British mathematics professor Ruth (Juliet Hart) whose story unfolds both as a love affair with the field and also with the American Al Cooper (Kareem Bandealy). Ruth also harbors a fascination with the famed 20th-century mathematician G.H. Hardy (Dennis William Grimes) and his young Indian disciple Ramanujan (Siddhartha Rajan). Physicist Aninda (Anish Jethmalani) also owes a debt of gratitude to Ramanujan for laying the foundation for his present studies of string theory, which he shares with us in a lecture that breaks the fourth wall. Together, these stories of mathematics and passion unfold in achronological sequence, jumping between time periods and moments in the middle of these relationships. Just as the mathematicians must work to solve problems, so too does the play call upon audiences to find the patterns in the narrative.
Just as A DISAPPEARING NUMBER unfolds rather beautifully, so too does Timeline’s production design. William Boles’s sparse scenic design cleverly conveys a wide variety of locales, aided by Davonte Johnson’s captivating and innovative projection design, Rachel Levy’s lighting, and Mikhail Fiksel’s delightful sound design. Sally Dolembo’s costumes also provide a specific sense of time and location in each scene of the play.
Under the direction of Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling, the ensemble crafts many touching moments in A DISAPPEARING NUMBER. Juliet Hart radiates charm and poise as Ruth, both in her professorial mode and also in more intimate scenes with Bandealy. The two actors have excellent onstage chemistry, making it easy for audiences to root for the couple. Bandealy also gives a superb and touching performance. As Aninda, Jethmalani adds humor and levity to the piece while also nailing some more somber moments later in the play. And as Hardy and Ramanujan, Grimes and Rajan find a rapport that strikes the balance between formal and familiar. Musicians Ronnie Malley and Bob Garrett also add a wonderful sense of atmosphere.
A DISAPPEARING NUMBER offers much to delight in and contemplate, though the play’s hour-and-fifty-minute duration does drag in a few places. I do think a few minutes could have been shaved off. The touching timeliness of the play and the fine work of the ensemble make it so that the numbers do ultimately add up to make A DISAPPEARING NUMBER worth seeing. And it is certain that in this moment, many of us will want to find a source of comfort and order, whether it be in numbers or elsewhere.