The Mathematical Association of America Online
Incompleteness – The Theorem Becomes a Play
Apostolos Doxiadis, author of the novel Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, has recently released a play called Incompleteness: A Play and a Theorem. The play was first seen in a “workshop production” in Athens last summer. Doxiadis hopes that the play will be produced in the United States in the near future.
Doxiadis’ play centers on the last days of Kurt Gödel, when the great logician was dying of malnutrition as a consequence of a serious mental illness. Building on what is known about Gödel’s life during this period, Doxiadis constructs his story, which pits Gödel’s logical approach to everything against the point of view of his fictional hospital dietician.
The workshop production was directed by Tony Stevens, designed by Maria Pesmatzoglou and lit by Andreas Bellis. The actors were Judy Boyle, Jonathan Kemp, Alexandra Pavlidou, and Ian Robertson. The play was well received by the Greek and international press. Vivienne Nilan, writing in the Herald Tribune, described the play as “moving but not pessimistic. Loss leads to illumination and the beginning of hope for another character.” Tefchros Michailidis, writing in Ta Nea, describes the play as a “splendid experience.”
Gregory Chaitin of the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center is one of the few American mathematicians to have seen the play. “In Incompleteness: A Play and A Theorem,” he says, “Apostolos Doxiadis has achieved the impossible. This moving and deeply human play manages to bring Gödel back to life and simultaneously tell us why so many mathematicians, philosophers and post-modern artists are fascinated and obsessed by Gödel and his infamous ‘incompleteness theorem’. Even though it’s about a famous mathematician, the play is an entertaining, life-affirming intellectual treat.”
Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture was one of the first of the recent group of novels dealing with mathematics and mathematicians. In his MAA Online review, Keith Devlin said that “not only does [Doxiadis] get the math bits correct, he can write fiction as well.” (See http://www.maa.org/reviews/petros.html for the full review.)
Apostolos Doxiadis was born in Brisbane, Australia but grew up and lives in Greece. He has always been interested in fiction and the arts, but a “sudden love affair with mathematics,” he said, led him to do graduate work in mathematics. In the 1980s, he turned back to his first love, working in film, theatre, and literature. Uncle Petros, written and published in Greek then translated to English by the author, was his breakout work.
June 3, 2004 – The Mathematical Association of America Online