|Indra's Net photo|
The play this time is about mathematics, but also about cultures and religions and where they all overlap at times.
The PlayThe principal character in Partition is Srinivasa Ramanujan, a largely self-educated mathematical prodigy from India. He had been kicked out of college for basically refusing to study anything other than math, so as a result he had little formal training or even understanding of the standard academic approach to the subject. What he had was a deep and unique appreciation for numbers and number theory. Working alone in Madras, he produced volumes of theorems, but lacked the techniques to prove them in standard terms.
Thwarted in his attempts to study further in India, Ramanujan sent samples of his work to some of the great theorists of the day, and one, G.H. Hardy of Cambridge, invited him to come work with him. This play then largely deals with Ramanujan as a fish out of water in Cambridge, and the difficult Hardy's attempts to work with Ramanujan without destroying him.
In addition to the two mathematicians, there are three other characters in the show: Alfred Billington, a classicist at Cambridge and long-time friend of Hardy, the ghost of Pierre de Fermat, the great French number theorist, and Namagiri of Namakkal, a Hindu Goddess. Billington serves as sort of a buffer between Hardy and Ramanujan, trying to temper Hardy's actions and appealing to his conscience. Namagiri is the inspiration for Ramanujan, the source of his theorems. And Fermat...well, Fermat is enigmatic and egotistical, even in death, but he and his theorems play an important role in the plot.
Overall it's quite an interesting script, delving into the sources of inspiration and validation, trying to reconcile Eastern and Western standards of both academics and ethical behavior.
The ProductionThere are elements of the production that are quite excellent. Namagiri (Aparna Krishnamoorthy in our performance) sings, chants, and dances wonderfully with the background of Indian music. She establishes the world of Ramanujan (Heren Patel) in Madras, and follows him to Cambridge via dreams. Hardy (Alan Coyne) and Billington (David Boyll) have an excellent rapport, albeit with a stylized formality. And Fermat (Marco Aponte) is a delightful figure, though a bit difficult to understand at times.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few times I felt Indra's Net failed to adapt adequately to the unique constraints of the theater at the Berkeley City Club. In particular, the space where Hardy and Billington sit and talk is set up in such a way that approximately half the audience will just see the backs of both of their heads, always. Although there is some attempt made to adapt to this, it's really quite a glaring deficiency in the stage design and direction.
Similarly, there are times when Ramanujan is directly addressing Namagiri at her shrine where he will inexplicably spin around and talk in a different direction. It appears to be an attempt to let some of the rest of the room see the actor's face, but it comes across as just bizarre behavior. Director Bruce Coughran has generally come up with better solutions than this in previous productions in this space. I should note that it's also noticeably difficult for the actors to navigate around the set pieces in the small stage space. The pieces covered with mathematical notation are attractive, but seem unnecessarily bulky as placed. Audience members had some difficulty getting around them to get seated; same for some of the actors.
But on the whole, the actors managed to do a credible job of getting across the key bits of the script, sometimes in spite of their surroundings.
Bottom LineI think the play itself has a lot of interesting stuff, and for the most part the actors did a pretty good job of cutting through distractions and portraying their characters. I don't think the staging and direction were nearly as successful, however.
On the whole, I'm glad I saw the show, and feel like there is enough there to make it worthwhile. It makes me wish I had seen the original production, at Aurora Theatre Company, some years back. I wasn't tuned into Aurora back then, apparently.
In any case, it's a good play with some good acting performances. I think you can get by the staging issues and get some value out of seeing the play.
Partition runs through January 14 at the Berkeley City Club.