Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the December 13,
2000 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Review: `Proof’
The year 2000 on Broadway was a winner, both
and artistically, but it owed as much to math and science as it did
to art. British playwright Michael Frayn, with his Tony Award-winning
"Copenhagen" ventured into a world of physicists who equate
their human behavior to their understanding of particles that spin
around the nucleus of the atom. That play is still spinning. Following
on its trajectory is American playwright David Auburn’s play
that deftly filters an impassioned human drama through a world of
higher mathematics. Very different in theme and presentation from
the ultra stylized "Copenhagen," "Proof" is more like
the solid and homey front-porch dramas of Lanford Wilson like
Sky" and "The 5th of July." In "Proof," the
is Chicago and a back porch, designed by John Lee Beatty in his best
decaying porch style.
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
formula. And while Frayn’s play dazzles us with the precise and
words of its science, Auburn’s play is distinguished by the grace
of ordinary words and by its extraordinary deployment of dual
Mary-Louise Parker, whose amazing performances as the molested teen
in Paula Vogel’s "How I Learned to Drive," is still etched
in my brain, is again bravely battling inner demons as the 25-year-old
Catherine, the daughter of Robert, a brilliant mathematician and
Having inherited her father’s intelligence and intense love of math,
Catherine’s promising scholastic career is just taking off when she
makes the life-altering decision to leave college to be his sole
as he loses a battle with mental deterioration. It isn’t easy for
Catherine to cope with her father who has come to believe that aliens
are communicating with him through the Dewey Decimal numbers in
books. For a while it looks like Catherine, slovenly dressed, rude,
and crude, is also straddling the fine line between genius and
For most the time, you will be as transfixed by Parker’s emotional
roller-coaster riding performance as you will be by Larry Bryggman,
who plays Robert with flashes of genius and geriatric failings.
When Hal (Ben Shenkman), a post graduate mathematician, gets
from Catherine to browse through the more than 100 notebooks left
by the idealized professor, he also discovers something special about
Catherine, whose otherwise barbed responses, sloppy appearance, and
general state of depression appears as fixed as the old house. Hal’s
aggressive investigation into the vast and disorganized mathematical
material contained in the professor’s notebooks is tempered by his
cautious but persistent interest in Catherine. Even before the
expected intellectual and emotional catharsis that comes to Catherine,
there is a revelation at the end of Act I that, although it is
manipulative, will undoubtedly startle you.
Things begin to bristle when Catherine’s questionably mercenary sister
Claire (Johanna Day), 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 the "bughouse." She is slow
to grasp the idea that Catherine’s attachment to the home has as much
to do with the lingering (and literal to Catherine) presence of
as it is to her emotional and intellectual tie to her father.
As the play proceeds, 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. Digging
in her heels, however, doesn’t keep Catherine from falling into the
arms of the ardent Hal, whose seduction is as artfully maneuvered
as is his aggressive investigation. Throughout this generously witty
and wise play, beautifully directed Daniel Sullivan, we are made
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?" Four stars.
— Simon Saltzman
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