April 25, 2002

 

Proof

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Charlotte Rep, please visit charlotterep.org.

(aired 5/1/02 on WFAE)

If Wednesdayís audience at the Booth Playhouse is any indication, entertainment that features mathematicians is hip. An almost full house of accountants, bankers and just us regular theatre goers witnessed Charlotte Reperatory Theatreís preview of Proof. This is Charlotte Repís last performance of the season, and Artistic Director Steve Umbergerís last production with this company that he founded 25 years ago. It is a fine tribute.

Written by 24 year old David Auburn, Proof avoids the didactic pitfalls so dreaded by those of us who are frightened of numbers. Instead, it presents a humanitarian interpretation of math by centering upon the relationships between those who are captivated by its possibilities. In Proof, twenty five year old Catherine sacrificed her schooling and a chunk of her youth to nurse her father Robert. Or did she? Once a brilliant mathematician, Robert lost his ability to reason, as he sank dramatically into dementia and eventually death. Or did he? Meanwhile, Claire, Robertís other daughter, split the coop to provide funds for the family via a bigtime job in New York, therefore assuming financial responsibility for the family, but avoiding the messy cleanup.

The action occurs around Robertís death, which spurs a homecoming by Claire, and the appearance of former student Hal, to search Robertís papers for possible glints of genius. Apparently discovering the great work of another is a big deal in the math world. Hal, sweet but also awkwardly ambitious, is determined to use this opportunity to possibly further his career, and perhaps play a little footsie with his former professorís daughter. Played with heart wrenching sincerity by Josh Gaffga, Hal earnestly tries to do and say the right thing while under the influence of hormones and intellectual stimulation. Heís quite funny.

Sarah McCafrey plays Catherine with equal parts of witty sarcasm and edgy neurosis. Alternately depressed and angry, McCafrey is a skillful switch hitter. Her bored indifference is spiced with saucy retorts and random adolescent temper tantrums, that reveal all the complex layers of which an intelligent young woman is capable. McCafrey played this just right, often teetering on the precipice of irritation, but consistently able to reveal her youth and pain at vital moments. The sisters were a marvel of contrast. As Catherine slouched and pouted, Claire, played by Sioux Madden, employed industrious high-heeled pacing and superficial conversational techniques to clarify the relationships between the characters.

For what is math but the application of a systematic relationship among figures? And can you really ever prove anything? There are assumptions, and premises, and indeed, there are often conclusions. But what does it take to truly prove something? Proof can refer to the strength of an alcoholic beverage, the basis for a photograph, and the answer to a query. What is waterproof does not leak. What is childproof is meant to protect. Proof can promise love, or it can destroy a dream. Mathematically speaking, it can be elegant or lumpy. And contrary to what I always thought, mathematical proofs are a result of abstract thinking, not concrete reasoning.

This I learned from an informative write-up conveniently included in the program. Entitled "On Mathematical Lore and Proof" by Dr. Tom Polaski from Winthrop University, it expounds upon what is fascinating about the number 1729, and laments about how few women, (a pitiful 5%!), are tenured faculty at the most highly ranked U.S. Universities.

But donít be put off by all this talk about numbers. This is a solidly expressed play about love, achievement, and possibility.

Lynn Trenning, April 25, 2002

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