by Terrance Mc Arthur
In mathematics, a proof is a way of verifying a hypothesis by building on known facts and theorems. When I tried to explain to two separate people that David Auburn’s Pulitzer-winning play Proof is about mathematics and mental illness, each asked, “Aren’t they the same thing?” The Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre hosts this study in family and prime numbers through August 12.
Robert (Gordon Moore) was a brilliant mathematician who battled mental illness…and lost. His younger daughter, Catherine (Bailey Johnson), who devoted years of her life to caring for her father, fears she has inherited her father’s ailments along with his abilities. The successful, cosmopolitan Claire (Marikah Christine Leal) thinks her little sister needs professional care. Hal (Jared Serpa), Robert’s last PhD student, finds mathematical gold in one of Robert’s manically-written notebooks…and thereby hangs a tale.
It’s a tight corkscrew of a tale, with revelations, accusations, and betrayals galore. Is Catherine sick? What are Hal’s motivations? Why is Claire suddenly touting the glories of New York? Does the proof in the notebook work? Who really wrote the proof? And…What do mathematicians actually do at their conferences? Although there are no violent crimes, this play drifts from family drama into the mystery genre without the audience noticing a thing.
Johnson goes between comatose and intense, worn out from caring for her father, and adamant in standing up for herself, a serious Sandra Bullock. Her clear speech resonates in the 2nd Space stage.
Leal exemplifies the frustrations of the person who pays the bills and makes the decisions in long-term medical matters. She feels as if she has all the work dumped on her, without any appreciation. Leal is calm and rational, the very things that would aggravate Catherine.
Serpa is able to control any impulses toward the frenetic, which strengthens the intensity that this cast expresses so well. Somewhere between Christian Slater and Kevin Bacon, he is charming with a hungry edge.
Gordon Moore, bless his heart, is all grown up. Instead of the well-loved mugging child, working each laugh, that we expect from him, we have an open, vulnerable soul crumbling before our eyes, and it will break your heart.
David Pierce’s set transports us to the aging neighborhoods around the University of Chicago, and Evan Commins lights the stage with subtle encroachments of mathematical functions, equations, and variables glowing in the darkness. Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed manages to bring out robes and nightwear that don’t show more than necessary.
This script dives deep into waters that may seem shark-filled to people who have dealt with dementia care, but there is a life preserver within reach. It may be love, it may be mathematics, or it may be just remembering to keep living.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 2 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.
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