Arts theater review

Speaking her truth in grad school

Joys and struggles at MIT

Truth Values: One girl’s romp through MIT’s male math maze
Written and Performed by Gioia De Cari
Central Square Theater
Sept. 12 – 23

Truth Values peeks into the life of Gioia, an MIT Ph.D. candidate in logic, from the moment she gets accepted till she leaves MIT with a master’s. Based in the author's own experiences at MIT, this autobiographical one-woman show portrays the rawness of MIT grad school as I've never seen in theaters before. The subtitle, “one girl's romp through MIT's male math maze,” adequately describes the isolation and gender discrimination emphasized through the play. However, the challenges Gioia faced, like finding friends, switching advisors, and having a father's death impact her graduate studies, speak to truths experienced by many in graduate school.

The play is an impressive single-person performance, and Gioia De Cari does an amazing job impersonating the various characters she faces along the way. The performance is aided by a projector, complementing well the statements and movements Gioia makes. Even with this, the theater space still seemed massive relative to the intimate connection created as Gioia’s qualifying exam extension is rejected after her father commits suicide.

While the play would resonate with many MIT students, we don’t seem like the intended audience. The play emphasized common MIT tropes, like the impersonal numbering of buildings and courses, and “drinking from a firehose,” giving them a much longer explanation than would be needed for MIT students and creating a more simplistic picture of the institute than many at MIT would recognize.

Towards the end of the play, when Gioia decided to not get a Ph.D., the viewer was left to wonder which of her experiences caused her not to finish with her Ph.D. Grappling with simplifying the complex factors, be it love for theater, trouble making friends, her father's death, imposter's syndrome, or discriminatory comments, the audience is left at a loss to find a simple explanation. At closing, Gioia circles back to her training as a logician, mentioning that a continuum exists between true and false, highlighting the complexity of the graduate school experience.