Kerry Sandomirsky as Alice, centre. In Long Division, the way in which Alice’s son reacts to bullying “connects all the characters in the play, and it makes my character deeply question herself,” explains Sandomirsky. (photo by David Cooper)
Math, movement, images, text, music and more combine in Peter Dickinson’s Long Division, which will see its première at Gateway Theatre Nov. 17-26.
Dickinson is a professor at Simon Fraser University and the director of SFU’s Institute for Performance Studies. Long Division is his third play, and it features seven characters. Jewish community member Kerry Sandomirsky plays Alice.
“Alice is the single mother of a brilliant math student who is bullied,” Sandomirsky told the Independent. “He responds by making a shocking choice. This event connects all the characters in the play, and it makes my character deeply question herself. What could she have possibly done differently?”
Directed by Richard Wolfe and produced by Pi Theatre, Long Division is “about the mathematics of human connection.” The characters, explains the synopsis, “are linked by a sequence of ultimately tragic events, but there is more to the pattern than first appears. The three male and four female characters use number theory, geometry and logic to trace their connection to each other and to the moment that changed their lives.”
When asked about what challenges the script posed for her, Sandomirsky, said, “Well, have you ever tried to explain Pascal’s Wager using contemporary dance? Or Fibonacci numbers? Or Schrödinger’s cat? We’re dealing with mathematical concepts as metaphors for human stories. So, the first task is to learn the math!”
And to how much of the math could she relate?
“Zero,” she said. “Thank God my son has a math tutor.”
Not only is there the math to master, but the movement. For that, the cast also had help.
“Earlier today,” wrote Dickinson in his Oct. 20 blog, “the choreographer of Long Division, Lesley Telford, invited me to drop by the studio at Arts Umbrella on Granville Island, where she was working … with seven amazingly talented dancers … and they have each taken on a character in the play, drawing from the text … to improvise and develop individual gesture phrases that may or may not eventually get set in some related form on our corresponding actors when we begin rehearsals next week…. I was amazed at how bang-on their instincts were in terms of energy and tempo and line, as well as things like muscularity vs. flow, repetition, different levels and directional facings, and so on. I was also pleased to note that I could also read each character in the movement without reading the movement itself as telegraphing too obviously this or that character’s psychology or profession.”
Projection art also helps “reveal aspects of the characters’ inner lives,” according to the play description. On Oct. 29, Dickinson blogged that it was “useful to have Jamie [Nesbitt] at the table yesterday for our final beat-by-beat read-through of the text, as he asked a lot of tough dramaturgical questions about what exactly was going on in different sections, and how video might support them in some instances, or conceivably work against them in others. Combined with the cast’s similarly probing questions from the rest of the week, the rigorous text analysis has really forced me to justify my choices, and to explain their relevance to the overall structure of the play and the respective inner worlds of each of the characters.”
Playing Alice motivated Sandomirsky to read Sue Klebold’s book A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. “Her son was one of the Columbine shooters,” explained Sandomirsky. “She experienced a firestorm of hatred. For example, when her family was sent food by her neighbors, her lawyer insisted she throw it out in case it was poisoned.
“This is the third play in a row where I play the mother of a tormented teenage boy. And this is definitely the first one that prescribes algebra as the way to get through life.”
But, Sandomirsky was quick to note, “Long Division is a workout for the mind – without sacrificing heart.”
Tickets for Long Division ($29) can be purchased from 604-270-1812 or gatewaytheatre.com/longdivision.