Math Lecture as Theatre

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

Long Division is a singular production that is thought-provoking and cryptic in equal measure. Written by Peter Dickinson, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, it is an extended rumination on the cause and effect in our lives. The play recently concluded its second run at the Annex Theatre in Vancouver.

As envisioned by director Richard Wolfe, the play is essentially structured as a series of monologues delivered in turn by seven protagonists, each of whom is en route to a bar to commemorate a tragic event that has unexpectedly bound their destinies together. The common thread between the monologues is mathematics.

The players are: a mild-mannered high-school math teacher (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia), a sports-loving imam (Anousha Alamian), a shallow corporate businessman (Jay Cleft), a headstrong lesbian barkeep (Jennifer Lines), a young aspiring actress (Melissa Oei), a head-mistress (Linda Quibell), and a grief-stricken single mother (Kerry Sandomirsky).

One by one, each character expounds upon various and numerous concepts from the realms of math and physics - venn-diagrams, geometry, number sequences, closed systems, and the vastness of space itself, to name but a few – to try and tease out some meaning from the apparently random circumstances which connect them to each other, and push them inexorably towards their common destination. Historical figures are name-dropped, equations are visualized, metaphors are certainly stretched, and the actors share an uncanny ability to finish one another’s sentences.

It’s heady stuff, and while the rapid-fire deliveries will no doubt leave some viewers’ heads spinning, the performances from the cast are very good (particularly Sandomirsky, Oei, and Lines). As the audience gleans more about each protagonist’s individual back-story and motivations, a gripping tale with a powerful emotional core does begin to gradually crystallize.

However, be prepared to remain a tiny bit confounded. The stories jump back and forth in time, several key plot-points are only vaguely hinted at, and a veneer of ambiguity is strictly maintained. In the end, the audience has a general sense of what happened, but not necessarily how, or even why. And I suspect that’s the point - after all, what animal is as adept as humans at finding patterns where none exist?

The constant backdrop through all of this is a marvelous three-dimensional polygonal set-piece by Lauchlin Johnston. Best described as an enormous hive of fractalized cellular structures, it also serves as a screen for receiving Jamie Nesbitt’s visual projections.

Additionally, the scenes are punctuated by Lesley Tellford’s hypnotic choreography which finds the actors caught in cycles of Brownian chaos and interlocked tension; and finally, drawing the proceedings together, is Owen Belton’s wonderful electro-ambient musical score. The overall effect is very memorable.

Long Division was brought to the stage by the Pi Theatre production company ( and ran from April 26-30, 2017. Its original run was at the Gateway Theatre in November last year.

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