A review of "Uniform Convergence," a play written and performed by Corrine Yap at Westover School April 5, 2018.
A Review of Uniform Convergence, Written and Performed by Corrine Yap
By Athulya Nath '19 • April 2018
Math is absolute, but Corrine Yap is not "a constant". Yap cannot be labeled through one equation. Rather, she identifies as an actress, a mathematician, a playwright, and an Asian American woman. The question of "where are you REALLY from" is one of many questions that Asian American women face, and Yap confronts this question along with highlighting the effects of racial stereotypes and the effects of a social climate based on racial discrimination in her one woman play Uniform Convergence.
Uniform Convergence is a story of the obstacles faced by the the intersection of gender and race. Being a woman and a minority creates a double challenge in the world of higher Mathematics, and Uniform Convergence creatively explores this problem. Yap tells two intersecting tales: one of Sofya Kovalevskaya, a Russian mathematician who concentrated on analysis, partial differentiation, and mechanics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofia_Kovalevskaya); and the second, of an Asian American Professor in a university math class.
Through poignant digressions from mathematical theories, the Professor teaches us that although we assume that moments in life may follow a predictable course, neither math nor society is reflective of that. Instead, in math, functions will always approach a limit but never quite get there. Using the striking analogy of mathematical concepts for societal interactions, Yap takes the complex concept of calculus and relates it to social climate and stereotypes. She then molds this mathematical concept into an analogy of the condition of society: though we claim progress and changes in society, we do not see true equality and inclusion in our day-to-day lives.
Performed in Westover's LBD Theatre as part of the Themed Year "The Power of Women", Yap's production was quite minimalistic, consisting only of three portable whiteboards, a desk, a chair, some books and stacks of paper. Her costume changes revolved around one teal scarf. Yet, the pared-down set allowed for her expressive acting to shine through. Her change of demeanor for both characters, her use of Russian, and musical interludes enriched and further promoted the message of her play. She isolated the action of the play in an effort to focus on the lives of the two women, Kovalevskaya and the Professor. Without the distractions of a more intricate set, the audience was allowed to focus on the core of the play. Both characters faced obstacles of gender and race discrimination. Kovalevskaya faced discrimination in work, as her gender and ethnicity barred her from receiving an education and from being hired. The Professor faced the internal conflict of what it is like to be an Asian American woman and how difficult it is to be who she wants to be when there are conflicting outside biases.
I found myself not only enjoying the play, but also identifying Yap and Kovalevskaya's struggles with my own. At times, as an Asian American woman, I find myself feeling as if I need to fulfill someone else's stereotype of what an Asian is like and what a woman is like. Seeing this play helped me further recognize what stereotypes I'm facing and how applicable the resilience of Kovalevskaya is, not only to me, but also to women everywhere.
As women, we may all have faced the challenges that come along with stereotypes. Are all women expected to go into traditional female-dominated careers? Or should we attempt to break the mold and go into STEM, just like Yap, the Professor, and Kovalevskaya? This play encourages us to ask some important questions: What's wrong with liking female dominated careers; and why is the concept of women in STEM revolutionary and not just normal? Yap fearlessly confronts the effect of stereotypes, and illustrates that sometimes those discriminated against find it easier to play up to the stereotype rather than to fight against it. Her experiences as an Asian American woman in America, as portrayed by the Professor in contrast with Kovalevskaya's journey, give us a sense of continuity in the struggle to fight discrimination. We also get a glimpse of the success that Kovalevskaya finally experienced in her field as one of the most influential mathematicians of all time.
Westover girls are blessed to be supported in all the facets of life in which we chose to be involved. At times, though, we need to remember that there are girls who don't get the opportunity to be in a community where other girls empower one another. Yap's play is a start towards helping us recognize our blessings and to realize that there are other women who do not experience the same support we do. It is up to us to ensure that support for women and girls is universal. Ms. Yap emphasizes the effect of projecting assumptions onto others; her skin color, along with her gender, creates societal barriers for her to succeed in the world of Mathematics. Uniform Convergence is a bold step past those barriers. Yap shows us a portion her multifaceted life, as her skills in playwriting, acting, and mathematics all intersect to create someone who cannot be labeled with just one title.
Yap's play definitely embodies the Power of Women. Kovalevskaya worked her whole life to establish her name as one of the most influential minds in mathematics. The Professor fought racial discrimination beginning as a child growing up in Missouri. Yap herself faced unpleasant discrimination growing up in Missouri, yet she did not allow herself to be bogged down, and instead went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College and to pursue PhD in Mathematics at Rutgers. Yap's resilience and ability to connect her love of mathematics and theater in this play demonstrates perfectly that if you can dream it, you can do it. Uniform Convergence reminds us not to make assumptions of others based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, but rather on their character. Being quick to judge someone can strip one's identity and diminish all that makes us complex and unique.