Gioa De Cari’s autobiographical one-woman show Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze returned to the Central Square Theatre this September after nine years for a brief run. Although De Cari was a “recovering mathematician” at the time Harvard’s then-president Lawrence Summers gave his 2004 speech in which he asserted the reason that fewer women have careers in science and math is the result of innate gender differences, it inspired her to revisit her experience at M.I.T. In 2009, when Truth Values made its début, the reaction to Summers’s speech was still strong. While male chauvinism has not disappeared, today there are considerably more women working in the world of science and math.
A graduate of the University of California, Berkley, Gioa De Cari arrived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1980s as a young bride planning to earn her Ph.D. in mathematical logic. She finds the school, the courses, the professors, and other students hard to understand. Her male teachers ask her when she plans to have children. A professor she dislikes expects her to pass out cookies at a seminar she takes with him. Fashion conscious Gioa finds it difficult to make friends at first. The other girls, whose clothing is similar to that of the male students, find her mode of dressing bizarre. They laugh at her when she wears a sexy dirndl. The boys either ignore her or try to seduce her. Eventually, she becomes friendly with a female student who had rejected her earlier.
However, she plugs away until her beloved father’s suicide. While still at M.I.T., she begins appearing in musicals and other theatrical forms, where she finds greater success and begins writing her own plays, though years pass before she appears in them. Eventually, she makes a compromise with herself, deciding to give up trying for the doctorate and writing a master’s thesis instead.
As I recall, Gioa De Cari’s performance was stronger in the first production. At the recent press night, she was slow to get started and seemed uncertain as if under-rehearsed, occasionally flubbing her lines. As the evening proceeded, she became more comfortable. She plays thirty-three characters in all, both men and women, old and young, American and foreign which is quite an accomplishment.
The setting and lighting are minimal. Early on there are six vertical panels upstage center with mathematical formulas written on them, which disappear. The stage is flat and shallow; a chair serves as furniture. Much of De Cari’s performance is spent either running around barefoot or lying on the floor. In this production, she wore a microphone which seems superfluous given that she has an operatic voice and the theatre holds roughly 150 people.
Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Math Maze played from September 12 to 23 at the Central Square theatre in Cambridge, MA.
This article first appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on September 24, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.