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L to R: Andréa Tyniec, Paul Braunstein and Amy Rutherford in Infinity. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Theatre review: Infinity at the National Arts Centre

By Jared Davidson on March 6, 2017

Infinity, the new play from Ottawa playwright Hannah Moscovitch, is the first play I’ve seen to have required the aid of a consulting physicist.

While the content of the play by no means demands special training to understand, it is clear that a lot of work went into making the conversations between the characters on subjects of mathematics, physics, and time as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

Amy Rutherford and Paul Braunstein in Infinity. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Amy Rutherford and Paul Braunstein in Infinity. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The result, when filtered through Moscovitch’s excellent writing, is a moving examination of what time means to people. It is a dialogue between the removed, logical world of physics and the more emotional world of human experience. It is a contrast that is played out in every moment of Infinity.

The production is cleverly devised to explore the concept of time from these two angles. Elliot Green (Paul Braunstein) gives voice to the cool, reasoned approach of theory in his approach to the discussion of time. His wife, Carmen Green (Amy Rutherford), experiences time through her music: she is a classical violinist.

Andréa Tyniec in Infinity. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Andréa Tyniec in Infinity. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

While the audience experiences Elliot’s arguments intellectually, they are given Carmen’s perspective through the measures and rhythms of solo violin accompaniment provided by Andréa Tyniec. The live violin, which plays a beautiful score composed by Njo Kong Kie, offsets Elliot’s brusk manner, offering counterpoint. The score matches the narrative: at times jarring, at others harmonious. The live performance makes it possible for the musician and actors to play off one another, adding to the fluidity of the production.

The narrative is temporarily disjointed, further highlighting, and calling into question, the concept of time. Carmen and Elliot’s daughter Sarah Jean Green (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) jumps forward and backward in time, and much of the story plays out as her memories. Endicott-Douglas’s ability to move seamlessly between different life stages of the same character is noteworthy. Her versatility in manner—one moment discussing her past lovers, the next throwing a screaming fit—is a highlight of the play.

All three of the actors do a fantastic job. Braunstein’s performance is at once alienating and sympathetic. He plays Paul in a deliberately mechanical way, a constant reminder of this man’s detachment from himself. He is a brain inhabiting a body, noticing everything but feeling nothing. Conversely, Rutherford brings a great deal of openness to her role as Carmen. Their love story is improbable, and yet, in Moscovitch’s hands, believable. Ross Manson’s direction is to be commended in helping the interactions between these three characters achieve such a level of polish.

Braunstein’s performance is at once alienating and sympathetic. He plays Paul in a deliberately mechanical way, a constant reminder of this man’s detachment from himself. He is a brain inhabiting a body, noticing everything but feeling nothing.

The set is simple to make room for the presence of the actors. It consists of a single table backed by a fabric wall, behind which Tyniec plays her violin. The lighting by Rebecca Picherack is equally understated, beautifully highlighting emotional moments with a light on Tyniec, who can then be seen through the fabric wall.

All elements of the play work together. It is clearly the outcome of a very clear vision and one that is marvellously executed. It’s the kind of play that will generate conversations, about the meaning of time, of love, and life’s meaning.


Infinity plays at the National Arts Centre Studio until March 11. Tickets cost $15–46 and are available online at www.nac-cna.ca.

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