When I was a young student, I detested math. Playwright David Auburn apparently fared much better in math. His Proof, written in 2000 won him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play.
Catherine (Jessica Wegrzyn) is the daughter of Robert (Peter Palmisano), a recently deceased math mastermind and University of Chicago professor. Unlike me in math class, she struggles with family genius but also fear of inherited illness thrown in to make her situation dicey.
Dad's grad student Hal (Jonathan Shuey) finds a dazzling proof about prime numbers locked in a desk drawer used by Catherine in Robert's office. For those who failed math like me, a prime number has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. For example, 5 is a prime number because only 1 and 5 evenly divide it, whereas number 6 has divisors 2 and 3 in addition to 1 and 6. Are we clear? Would you like to hear my take on the square of the hypotenuse? I thought not.
The title refers both to Robert's supposed proof and the play's central question - can Catherine, who finds herself in a sudden relationship with 28-year-old Hal, prove its authorship? Like Barack Obama's bumpy management of health care, she desperately tries to maintain some control as Robert's later years involve bizarre delusions.
Harold is one of Robert's last Ph.D. students when his icon and inspirational mentor's illness goes into remission, and to round out the cast, Claire (Aleks Malejs) is Catherine's older sister, a gritty, take-charge type who fled to New York City to escape from her dysfunctional family.
Auburn has Catherine converse with her father in flashbacks that reveal conflicting desires and an academic career frustrated by arduous responsibilities nursing her sick father. Father and daughter express passion and sometimes anguish for math, and surprise, surprise, there is a strange taste of poetry in their theorems. Catherine's complications are multiple - grief, sibling rivalry, romantic strain, and the terrifying possibility of losing her mind, but what the play is ultimately about is trust, which makes this a terrific contemporary choice for Kavinoky Artistic Director Norman Sham and his excellent cast.
With Auburn's tight, terrific play, Artistic Director, David Lamb and Director, Norman Sham offer a wonderful start for Buffalo theatre's New Year at D'Youville College's Kavinoky Theatre, located just across the Peace Bridge for Canadians and well worth a visit. (Ticket price: $39)
Kavinoky is a bit of a treasure. When you enter D’Youville College, it’s like stepping back in time. The hallway is filled with terrific pictures of female classes circa early 1900s. Would you believe that this school is ultimately a direct result of 5 Grey nuns arriving here in Buffalo from Ottawa! I love the big black and white picture of the 1912 graduating class consisting of 27 young women. D’Youville was first in Western New York to allow women into college.
"Proof," by David Auburn at Kavinoky, 320 Porter Avenue Buffalo, NY 14201 (716) 829-7668 runs to February 2. See: http://www.kavinokytheatre.com/ for more details.
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