Truth Values: One Girl's Romp Through MIT's Male Math Maze
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 14, 2009
In January 2005, Lawrence Summers, then the President of Harvard University, shot himself in the foot when he suggested that women may not have the same innate abilities in math and science as men. Multitudes of women (and men) all over were deeply offended and outraged at his sexism. Maureen Dowd wrote an article in the New York Times strongly criticizing Summers and encouraging women everywhere to "Dish it Out."
One woman, also enraged at Summer's remarks, was inspired to "dish out" her own story by writing and acting in her own show, now playing at the Lafayette Street Theatre as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Gioia De Cari's Truth Values: One Girl's Romp Through MIT's Male Math Maze details her experience as a Ph.D. candidate in theoretical mathmatics in the mid- to late-1980s at MIT. Fresh from Berkeley and newly married, De Cari arrives at the fabled Boston school ready to take the mathematical world by storm.
What she finds, however, is a school full of men and boys, most of whom have the emotional maturity of 12-year-olds. Her professors are largely dismissive of the very few women at the school and her male classmates are both enamored of and insulted by her presence. De Cari must search for a place to study without disturbance, which turns out to be the Margaret Cheney Room, a women's-only study with a combination lock to keep men out. Most of De Cari's female classmates try to assimilate by dressing like the male students and doing their best to blend in to the background. Not Gioia De Cari. After one professor continually directs her to bring cookies to class, De Cari starts her "fashion experiments," wearing more and more provocative clothing, which serves to initially alienate her female classmates, but also serves to increase the unwanted attention from the male students and faculty.
Interspersed with her perturbing adventures at MIT, De Cari tells the story of her father, a man she adores and is desperate to please. After her father's suicide, De Cari begins to question all of her choices and starts to seek solace and meaning outside the academic world. Curiously, De Cari hardly mentions her mother, which seems a little at odds with her feminist ideals.
While De Cari's stories are charming and humorous, they seem awkwardly joined together. Miriam Eusebio's direction and lighting cues help soften these jarring and abrupt transitions between De Cari's vignettes. The story seems to lack the wit and anger that De Cari talks about, and at times her stiff physicality seemed to hamper her storytelling efforts.
Her story is, however, inspiring and it is astonishing to believe that such chauvinism could have existed and that De Cari could survive in such a backward environment. De Cari covers her bases by being sure to mention that things at MIT are different in 2009 than when she was a student. Still, given Lawrence Summer's comments in 2005, one has to wonder how far women have really come in the elite realms of science and academia, and what challenges women continue to face.
Less of a romp and more of a stroll down her mathematical memory lane, De Cari nonetheless shows us that life is not "true or false" like a theoretical mathmatical problem, but instead a "maybe" where there are challenges and shades, and also bright and sunny places where a person's talents can shine and thrive.