Hannah and the art of physics

Toronto playwright set for world premiere of new play

Salt and chocolate. Popcorn and M&M’s. Melon and prosciutto. Every now and again, there’s that brilliant moment when someone discovers an unexpected combination that ends up working.

For Toronto playwright Hannah Moscovitch, this unexpected duo was playwriting and theoretical physics.

Her new play, Infinity, centres around a mathematician experimenting with love while her parents — a composer and theoretical physicist — struggle to keep theirs alive. Highlighting what it means to be citizens of time, the play shows that love and time are connected in ways that we never could have imagined.

The process of writing the play started when Volcano Theatre’s artistic director, Ross Manson, simply requested that Moscovitch write a play about time. Her first reaction: to turn to the people who know time best.

“I started reading the work of theoretical physicists and trying to catch up on the many formative years of physics,” says Moscovitch.

She eventually came across Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn, which counteracts Einstein’s view that time is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” Rather, time is real, and the very laws of physics evolve over time rather than being fixed, Smolin argues.

Soon, Smolin became Moscovitch’s “consulting physicist,” helping her write and revise the technical elements of his theories that were incorporated into the play.

“It’s been really beautiful to get to work with him, and it’s so rare in a way for artists and scientists to collaborate,” says Moscovitch. “We really like each other because we’re creative types on both sides.”

Although the exploration of physics may be new territory for Moscovitch, other themes are expected of the playwright. Audience members surely won’t be surprised with this dark comedy’s examination of love — a typical topic choice for Moscovitch.

“I’m always drawn toward anything that sort of refutes simplification,” she said. “And love is like that. Love has its dangers and yet is essential to our happiness.”

Infinity also deals with “large systems of thoughts that we aren’t aware of” and how ideas are passed on from generation to generation. At six and a half months pregnant, the playwright admits it’s a subject that resonates with her deeply at the moment.

“I’m fully in the throes of thinking about how my systems of thought will be communicated to the baby — what my systems of thought are and which of my systems of thought are unexamined,” she says. “There’s a whole set of cultural ideals that get passed down.… And because the play is about that, it’s coming out at a hilariously appropriate time.”

Moscovitch is an award-winning playwright. Her first full-length play, East of Berlin, premiered at Tarragon in 2007 where she is currently playwright-in-residence.

Infinity opens April 1 at the Tarragon Theatre’s Extraspace.

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