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June 2005

Release date: June 13, 2005

Mathematics Professor Pens Uncommon Plays

When Dr. Trey Smith writes plays, he combines the trained analytical mind of a mathematician with the creative insight of an author.

The result is a formula for unusual, humorous and thought provoking looks at life, social structures and human interaction.

Smith, an assistant professor of mathematics at Angelo State University, said his plays fail to fit any one genre.

"They're more theory of life than slice of life," Smith said. "That's the best way of describing it."

San Angelo audiences will get a chance to see his work in "Uncommon Threads," three short comedic plays by Smith during the Arts at ASU's first dinner theater of the season June 23-26 and June 30-July 2. Students will perform "Antimatter," "Or Something Else Entirely" and "Between Any Two Points."

Smith and Dr. Bill Doll, University Theatre director, have formed a friendship as they have worked together on plays over the years. Doll jokingly said Smith comes from the smart side of campus.

"He likes to come over here and badger the humanists," Doll said.

Humor aside, Smith said his training as a mathematician helps and hinders his writing.

"Sometimes I sacrifice a lot of art for rationality," he said, but "I know where I want to get and I have built into the play a way to get there. I will get to the point."

Smith took an unusual route to playwriting. He majored in biology when he graduated from ASU in 1983. Smith returned to ASU for a master of science in 1990 and earned his doctorate in mathematics at the University of North Texas. Smith joined the ASU Mathematics Department faculty in 1993.

He said his family turned him from a theater fan to a participant.

"I had a lot of interest, I just wasn't involved in it," Smith said. "When you've got a child involved in theater, you see a lot of the show."

His wife, Central High School theater director Laura Smith, and son, ASU junior Carl Smith, began participating in San Angelo productions, and soon Smith found himself getting involved.

After acting in various roles, he tried his hand at writing, but the first attempt ended poorly.

"I wrote one that's just terrible," he said. 'I think it's gone now, I burned it from the computer."

Since putting his rough start behind him, Smith has endeavored to write what became "Or Something Else Entirely." He started meeting with Doll for advice as he began formulating ideas and even sat in on a senior-level playwriting course in 2002.

Doll listened to Smith's concept for "Or Something Else Entirely" and told him which plays he should read to help him formulate ideas.

"He sent me out on a play reading feast. I read a lot of plays," Smith said. "I love to do research, that's one of my problems, I guess."

Smith read Neil Simon, Luigi Pirandello and Ted Tally scripts, some of whose names and works show up in "Or Something Else Entirely."

The result is a play based on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, a mathematical concept Smith researched as a doctoral student.

"It finds statements in mathematics that can't be proven," Smith said, defining the theorem. "You don't know if they'll work and will never know. The play makes it easier to explain."

Doll said the main characters in the play, Ellen and Kurt, remind him of an M.C. Escher drawing where two hands are drawing each other.

"She's creating him as they go," Doll said. "Eventually, he takes over."

Doll said each of Smith's plays has a similar theme.

"They're all almost pictures in pictures - a world within a world," Doll said.

His description fits 'Between Any Two Points." The play revolves around the relationship between David and Karen, but the pair isn't in the play. Instead, characters are features of the relationship, such as love, intimacy and common interests.

"The characters in this are the things that comprise the relationship itself," Doll said. "It's really pretty funny."

"Antimatter" uses properties of physics to explain why a young man who is enamored by the beauty of a woman who works at RadioShack can't bring himself to meet her.

Dr. David Bixler, associate professor of physics, is helping the cast learn the physical properties they must act out as they portray romantic relationships in a both humorous and scientific way.

Seeing his plays performed, especially "Or Something Else Entirely," is the fruition of a goal, Smith said.

"What's happening now, the production of these plays, was my goal," he said. "I was delighted when Dr. Doll called and said he was thinking about my plays."