Rob Kempson’s new play explores human relationships on Toronto stages
Trigonometry, a new play by Rob Kempson, takes to the stage at Factory Studio Theatre with an intriguing drama about relationships and power. Set in a high school and lightly associated with the mathematics from which the play takes its name, this was a well-acted and largely enjoyable exploration of human relationships.
I enjoyed revisiting the familiar domain of high school, centered in a visually interesting set filled with mathematical symbols and equations. The play benefitted from exploring the power difference between student Jackson (Daniel Ellis) and teachers Susan (Alison Deon) and Gabriella (Rose Napoli), though I wish the power dynamic had been pushed even further.
Trigonometry starts by introducing Jackson’s dislike of math and exploring the friendship between gentle substitute teacher/guidance counselor Susan and passionate, slightly out-of-control math teacher Gabriella. As the play progresses, however — I won’t give the details away — the coincidences and shocking twists begin to pile up. Though I was entertained, I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief all the way until the end of the play.
I though the play’s pacing lagged in places, especially during an early climactic scene between Jackson and Gabriella. My friend Jesse and I both identified a tendency for the audience to be ahead of the characters in certain “big reveal” scenes, which made them less interesting to watch. However, we both especially enjoyed the brief scene during which a frenzied Gabriella teaches math to the audience. As Gabriella, actor Rose Napoli was consistently interesting and absorbing to watch.
Although I was pulled into the world of the play, I couldn’t help but question the playwright’s decision to make Jackson a Black student. I felt uncomfortable about the fact that he had a basketball scholarship but was flunking math, which reminded me too much of racial stereotypes. Happily, actor Daniel Ellis added the depth and complexity required to flesh out his role.
After Trigonometry invested so much time in creating a complex interpersonal situation, I was disappointed that the play ended before we could see any of the characters make a real decision about what to do next. Inconclusive endings can be a powerful theatrical tool, but in this case, I would have liked to see the characters act on the power they had maneuvered so carefully to obtain.
Overall, Trigonometry feels like a play of the present moment. The world of the play is nicely textured with discussions about sexual education curriculums, homosexuality, adoption and/versus biological parenting, and privacy, even when these themes aren’t necessarily in the spotlight. For all its love of coincidence, Trigonometry offers an entertaining and well-acted night at the theatre.
- Trigonometry is playing until March 25, 2017 at Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday; see website for performance times
- Ticket prices are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and arts workers
- Tickets are available online, at the door, or through the box office at 416-504-9971.
Photo of Rose Napoli and Daniel Ellis by Greg Wong