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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
"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
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