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Splitting the difference


Albert Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Religion verses science. Fact verses faith. Is there common ground between these seemingly opposing forces? Geva hosts the world premiere of Splitting Infinity, a dramatic love story exploring these themes.

Sitting within the prime focus cage of an astronomical telescope, 24-year-old astrophysicist Leigh Sangold is challenging her oldest friend, rabbinical student Saul Lieberman, about creationism. As they stand on opposite sides of a great divide, encouraging the other to leap across, their relationship sets up the play's theme. Attempting to ground Leigh, Saul reminds her that there are "important things, right here on earth. Look down once and a while, you'll notice them."

Fast forward 25 years to Leigh's 49th birthday party. The shine is off her youthful enthusiasm, she's wearing a drunken bravado. Recognizable as Mom on Nickelodeon's Clarissa Explains It All, Elizabeth Hess plays the elder Leigh with abandon. She has the elegant looks of Blythe Danner, but her reactions are spasmodic. When Leigh's post-doctoral student unexpectedly kisses her, Hess plays embarrassed by wildly flailing her arms and legs. Subtlety is lacking. However, one must respect a woman who shamelessly performs a 20-minute scene in only her underwear. Great set of gams!

The astounding set mirrors the themes. The telescope's cage, where the majority of the flashback scenes occur, hangs above the office set. The audience's focus is pulled up, into the lab that science built and beyond, into nature's star-filled sky. The physical placement of the idealistic Leigh above her foundering future counterpart successfully symbolizes her change, her struggles throughout the years.

The plodding plot takes on speed when Leigh and Robbie (Michael Zlabinger), the aforementioned co-ed, begin theorizing about the existence of a deity. They decide to go after God, to prove that God doesn't exist. This is splitting infinity, a task that can never be accomplished.

Their decision is supposed to be an epiphany, but there was no power in the timing of this realization. Hess and Zlabinger rush the scene, making it nearly impossible to keep up with their reasoning.

In the interactions between young Leigh (Morgan Hallett) and young Saul (Paul Kropfl), passion appears. Throughout, the story flashes back to these young friends. The budding of their romance and its destruction are almost simultaneous. Just before their tryst ensues, Leigh describes the fate of dying stars: to become black holes, sucking and destroying, or to become Red Giants, spraying light and giving life. In the glow of that beautiful image, the pair's first kiss is sweet and tentative. The actors are unafraid to play the moment quietly. Having seen into the pair's future, knowing that they merely remain friends, the audience wonders why. These actors engage.

Unfortunately, the plot's turning point does not; it is cliché. Playwright Jamie Pachino needs to shock the play to life, jolt the elder Leigh into reflecting on her life choices, her beliefs.

It's at the end of the play that young Leigh first appears on stage next to her elder self. While their worlds remain separate, the audience is able to see the beginning and the end, alpha and omega side-by-side. In seeing this contrast, the audience wonders if Leigh's relationship with Saul will survive her insults, both of his manhood and his faith. Will she be forgiven by both man and God?

Pachino posits mind boggling questions, but they go unanswered and, effectively, unexplored. The audience may feel invigorated and confused by the heady concepts of theology and astrophysics, but without thorough explanation, they remain confused. Splitting Infinity is an opportunity for enlightenment, lost.

You should go if... you like thinking about god, gas giants or guy troubles.

Splitting Infinity through May 14 | GevaTheatreCenter, 75 Woodbury Boulevard | $13.50 to $48.50 | 232-GEVA,