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This article was prepared for the July 14, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Math, Love, & Truth in ‘Proof’

Math and engineering are the context of the David Auburn play "Proof,"

which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and 2002 Tony Award for best play.

The Princeton Summer Theater is staging the production from Thursday,

July 15 through Sunday, July 18.

On Friday, July 16, further illumination is provided by Princeton

mathematician Lee Neuwirth, who shares his math and theater

observations with the audience at a post-performance discussion.

Neuwirth, father of award-winning actor Bebe Neuwirth, brings a

special double perspective to the play, which is about family as well

as mathematics.

"Proof," a big hit in New York, has been snapped up by Hollywood. The

Miramax film – starring Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Gwyneth

Paltrow, who played the role of Catherine in London – opens in

December. The play has also been produced by regional and community

theaters across the country to enthusiastic crowds.

In reviewing the play for U.S. 1 (December 13, 2000), Simon Saltzman

wrote that "The year 2000 on Broadway was a winner, both financially

and artistically, but it owed as much to math and science as it did to

art." He went on to praise "Proof," a play that "deftly filters an

impassioned human drama through a world of higher mathematics."

The setting for "Proof" is Chicago and a decaying back porch. Saltzman

wrote that "Although the three principal characters are

mathematicians, and their dedication to their field of study is

observed, it is secondary to the resolve of a parent-child

relationship, a blossoming of a romance, and the mystery that

surrounds the authorship of a revolutionary mathematical formula." The

play, "is distinguished by the grace of ordinary words and by its

extraordinary deployment of dual realities."

The play is about a mathematician losing a battle with mental

deterioration, a brilliant man who believes that aliens are

communicating with him through the Dewey Decimal numbers in his

library, and his daughter, who has inherited his intelligence and

intense love of math. Her promising scholastic career is just taking

off when she makes the life-altering decision to leave college to be

her father’s sole caregiver. Her mental state is also questionable.

When a post graduate mathematician gets permission to browse through

the more than 100 notebooks left by the idealized professor, he also

discovers something special about the daughter, "whose otherwise

barbed responses, sloppy appearance, and general state of depression

appears as fixed as the old house."

Things begin to bristle when Catherine’s questionably mercenary

sister, a stock analyst, comes to visit to persuade Catherine to

either close down the house and move into the city under her watchful

eye, or check into a mental hospital.

"As the play proceeds," Saltzman wrote, "Auburn’s play correlates the

past and future and the scholarly relationship between father and

daughter, so deftly, humorously and poignantly that one quickly buys

into the assumption that time is, indeed, relative and relatively

mysterious. Throughout this generously witty and wise play, we are

made to wonder about motives, sincerity, career choices, love, and

truth, and a few other things that good plays should make us think

about. Isn’t that enough ‘Proof?’"

Proof, Princeton Summer Theater, Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton

University campus; Thursday, July 13 through Sunday, July 18; Thursday

through Saturday at 8 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets: $13 to $15. Call 609-258-7062 or visit

www.princeton.edu/~pst.


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