On the surface, David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof is about math and the complications that arise when numbers no longer make sense.
But those who show up to see the Mount Baker Theatre’s Summer Repertory offering—which is playing alongside Neil Simon’s Chapter Two and Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond on various dates through Aug. 5—will soon discover math is merely the catalyst for exploring a multitude of other things, such as family dynamics, love and even mental health.
In other words, as long as you understand that one plus one equals two, and that human relationships can’t be confined to a simple equation, you’ll be able to follow along.
For those who didn’t see the movie of the same name, the plot goes something like this: After her famous mathematician father, Robert (Randy Hoffmeyer) dies, his youngest daughter, Catherine (Noel Wamsley) must decide what she’s going to do for the rest of her life. She put her own education and future on hold to take care of him when his mind started to slip, and fears she might be following in his footsteps.
As she comes to the realization that she might be heading for a destination that involves a window seat on the crazy train, Catherine must still come to terms with the after-effects of her father’s death. Throw in having to deal with a growing attraction with one of her father’s former graduate students (Adam St. John) and the demands of her older, more put-together sister (Jessica Young)—both of whom want different things from her—and it’s not long before things must come to a head.
And, just before intermission, they do. You see, as it turns out, Catherine didn’t just inherit a possible propensity for mental instability. When Hal finds a mathematical proof in her late father’s desk that may change the world of prime numbers, Catherine shocks him by asserting that she, not her father, was the one who came up with the solution.
In lesser hands, the back-and-forth between Catherine, Hal, Claire, and Robert (whom the audience comes to know in a more personal way through brief flashbacks) might not ring true. But, thanks to the perfect casting and able direction by New York-based director and choreographer Stefanie Sertich, the relationships have a startling intimacy that allows layers of real-life authenticity to shine through.
Consider, for example, a scene between Catherine and her father that takes place soon after he’d had nearly a year of clarity before returning to the maelstrom of his muddled mind. She finds him outside on the patio—where most of the play takes place—in the middle of winter. He’s wearing a T-shirt and feverishly writing in a journal. When she gently puts a coat around his shoulders and reminds him that it’s actually freezing outside, he begins to babble incoherently about the mathematics of the weather.
“The future of cold is infinite,” he says to her before allowing himself to be ushered inside. The look she exchanges with him is full of both sorrow and love.
In summary, while math itself is a clever concept at the forefront of Proof, it’s the adding up of the human emotions that make the real difference.
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