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

Proof, Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48 Street, New York.

$24 to $69. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

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