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Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Maze

Directed by Miriam Eusebio

Written and performed by Gioia De Cari

Central Square Theater, 450 Mass Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Truth Values will have an extended run through September 27

What is truth?” This is the question asked by one of Gioia’s professors in a sermon to a group of scholars. This is also the question that Gioia has to ask herself — what is her truth — as she presents to us an autobiographical portrayal of her time at MIT.

The sole performer in this show, Gioia De Cari is an “actress, playwright, classical singer and ‘recovering mathematician.’” Aside from having a dynamic stage presence, she is also gifted at impersonating other characters, transitioning easily from a sleazy professor to a snooty nasal-voiced colleague. She infuses so much personality into the sketches of the people she meets at MIT that one cannot help but be drawn into her memoir.

Gioia describes her young self as “naïve.” An exuberant math student who graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley, she originally entered MIT to obtain a PhD in mathematics. Setting her story in the 80s, Gioia embarks on a treacherous journey, navigating through a heavily male dominated field, evading foreign admirers and negotiating deadlines. Her personal anecdotes are so poignant that they manage to invoke feelings of familiarity amongst the audience despite not having met these characters. Amongst her portraits is the nuclear engineering student who fantasizes about the apocalypse (brought about by a beautiful nuclear weapon of course), her seminar advisor who sends her off to bring cookies to events, and the presumptuous female professor who advises her to quit mathematics and enter acting.

While Gioia is effective at describing MIT as an environment not accommodating to women and even borderline unfriendly (the secret to surviving for many was to simply blend in with the men), she fails to identify the exact reason for her departure from MIT. It is true that certain unforeseen events occur in which her faith in herself and her track in life is disturbed. However, the impetus behind her transformation from a naïve math lover to a jaded PhD student who has to set aside three hours every day for math is never clarified.

While the play puts so much emphasis on “what is truth?” and “the value of truth,” I think that the play lacks in articulating Gioia’s own truth. Towards the end of the play, Gioia notes that by the end of her career at MIT, math had become equivalent to pain and theater to pleasure.

Those acquainted with MIT’s culture will be able to relish in Gioia’s references to distinctly MIT traditions and humor. Gioia even included some jibes at the ‘Sloanies’ — the MBA students at the Sloan School of Management — such as “when they graduated, I could hear them cheering: ‘MIT MBA, M-O-N-E-Y.’” She was also able to elongate jokes by alluding to them in various other parts of the play. Her wit is undeniable and dramatizations well delivered. I only wished that she was able to elucidate certain passages of her story better. Then again, it is an autobiographical play, and perhaps Gioia has not found her own “truth value” yet.