Friday, September 25, 2009

Do the math

This weekend marks the last performances of Gioia De Cari's award-winning one-woman-show Truth Values (above) at the Central Square Theater. I've been a bit reluctant to write about the production, I confess, because I've become a bit involved with it personally - I've been trying to find a way to get it on videotape, and perhaps even on the air. I've come to realize this could be a long process - but in the meantime, you still have a chance to catch this smart, snappy take on what it was like to be a female graduate student at MIT in the 80's. The piece was marketed as a riposte to Larry Summers's famously sexist musings on women in science, but it's actually more a personal journey - and one that, ironically enough, might be seen as backing up Summers's position rather than undermining it.

But that's always the way of honest art - it rarely aligns with a political position, however enlightened. The good news is that because of her honesty, De Cari deftly side-steps political correctness and comes up with a piece that does, indeed, skewer with deadly accuracy the sexist stupidity of so many men in math and science, but also connects with deep questions of self-determination that all young people must face. And it also represents the first time I've ever seen MIT life (I graduated a few years before De Cari enrolled) accurately depicted on a stage in Boston, or maybe anywhere (Truth Values is basically what Good Will Hunting pretended to be). This alone is noteworthy, and actually rather politically intriguing - as were the attitudes revealed in the comments of several reviewers, one of whom noted he had hoped the show would "strafe MIT from the air." I'm glad De Cari disappointed him - indeed, the Institute instead comes off rather well in her account, even if its male denizens don't. After all, MIT has been engaged in a concerted, self-critical push to engage women in the hard sciences for ages (over my years there, the percentage of women students leapt from something like 20% to nearly 50%); if anything, it's society that has lagged behind the Institute. And of course Larry Summers has, too.

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