The perfect alchemy of devised and written work is rare. In devising, emphasis is placed on individual moments. There is some irony in the unintended effect of separate but equal parts when working in a collaborative process. Writing is the opposite. In solitude, the playwright is in complete control, always aware of their total responsibility to tell the story. In many ways it’s a forest-and-trees situation: is the work focused on the closeup or the landscape? The broad strokes or the fine details?
Fortunately for Chicago audiences, the British collective Complicite know enough about string theory and Hindu philosophy to demonstrate that, in terms of the theatrical arts, the forest and trees are one in the same. TimeLine Theatre’s production of “A Disappearing Number” may well bring to mind some of the more daring productions of the last several years (“A Curious Incident,” “2666,” “Constellations” and “United Flight 232” all came to mind), but there is a unique totality to this production that, like a convergent sequence approaching infinity, comes close to perfection.
Lead by Nick Bowling, whose skills and talents in the realm of movement-based direction find their ideal match with Complicite’s brand of storytelling, “A Disappearing Number” is a story about the complexities of ethnicity. You can sense that the question of “Where are you from?” is charged with meaning for this exceptionally talented cast, which includes Kareem Bandealy, Anish Jethmalani, Anu Bhatt, Arya Daire, Joseph Sultani and newcomer Siddhartha Rajan. In truth, there has never been a bad time for difficult conversations about the relationship between colonizer and colonized, who belongs and who doesn’t. In 2017, TimeLine’s desire to keep art and life in a conversation with each other is as essential as it’s ever been.
“A Disappearing Number” will change the way you look at the world, most likely for the better. It is history, time, love and math all wrapped into a compelling yet enigmatic whole. It does not provide answers so much as provokes questions that you never knew you wanted the answers to. It encourages curiosity. It offers a glimpse at the immense potential of theater and humankind. (Kevin Greene)
TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 West Wellington, (773)281-8463, timelinetheatre.com, $28-$51. Through April 9.