The McCarter Theatre in Princeton has opened its 2013-2014 Season with the Tony Award Best Play of 2001 "Proof" by David Auburn. Directing "Proof" is Emily Mann in her 24th season as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre. Ms. Mann and the McCarter were just honored with the 2013 Best Play Tony Award for the comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang that played on this same stage last year. In contrast to the Vanya set which was a porch of a very fashionable Bucks County home, Designer Eugene Lee, a three-time Tony Award winner, has created a drab back porch of a rundown house located near the University of Chicago for "Proof." Surrounding the two story facade is a blackboard filled with mathematical equations.
"Proof," also a winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a fascinating, taut, complex drama, elegantly conceived, that centers on the unique relationship between a father and daughter and the world of mathematics that has consumed most of their lives. Have no fear; there is little or no actual math in the play. This is a tale of love, madness, trust and genius.
The father, Robert (played by a marvelous character actor Michael Siberry, an alumnus of England's Royal Shakespeare Company) is a recently deceased mathematical genius, formerly a professor at the University of Chicago, who had been struggling on and off with delusional mental illness for several years. He is seen only in his daughter Catherine's imagination and in flashbacks. She (Kristen Bush) has sacrificed her own mathematical studies for the past five years to care for her widowed father. At the plays opening she is sitting alone on the porch reluctantly, and quietly "celebrating" her 25th birthday. She is soon "joined" by her father bearing a cheap bottle of champagne as his birthday gift. He regrets that she has been wasting her potential, either social or academic, by devoting herself totally to caring for him. We soon learn that Catherine fears that she may have inherited her father’s mental illness. He rejects her concern; " A very good sign that you're crazy is an inability to ask the question, 'Am I crazy?' Even if the answer is yes? Crazy people don't ask, you see?"
Working in the house examining Robert's vast collection of notebooks for a possible major mathematical "proof" is a 28 year old grad student Harold "Hal" Dobbs (nicely played by Michael Braun). Dobbs is working with the reluctant permission of Catherine. She questions his motives. Is he simply on a quest to find something that would honor her late father, or is he simply trying to advance his own career via credit for an important find? Possibly of even greater concern to her "are his romantic overtures sincere?"
The fourth member of the play is Catherine's older, successful sister Claire (Jessica Dickey). She lives in New York and has been supporting both her father and Catherine. She arrives for Robert's funeral and reveals to Catherine her major, somewhat traumatic, plans for her younger (neurotic?) sister. Verbal fireworks, naturally, follow. Dickey's firm, in control, demeanor is in perfect contrast to Catherine's confused state.
Emily Mann has delivered a remarkable, highly satisfying production with an excellent cast led by Kristen Bush as Catherine and Michael Siberry (giving a masterclass in acting) as her father Robert. You have until October 6th to see "Proof."
Director Mann's creative team includes Eugene Lee (set designer), Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costume designer), Stephen Strawbridge (lighting designer), and Mark Bennett (sound designer).
Tickets for Proof can be purchased online at www.mccarter.org, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, located at 91 University Place in Princeton, New Jersey.
The play is performed in the Berlind theatre and runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio Saturday September 14, 2013
"Proof," a play about a mathematical genius who suffers from mental illness is being performed adjacent to the Princeton campus the setting for the book and film "A Beautiful Mind" the story of Princeton professor John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics.
Also, "Proof" was made into a major film in 2005 starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, along with Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film version added more characters (in minor supporting roles), whereas the play has only four.
Ms. Mann playbill comments, “I knew I wanted to select a contemporary American play because I thought it would complement the rest of the season. When I thought about plays from the last 15 years that I loved, "Proof' immediately came to mind. We have never produced it at McCarter and I felt that I had a special connection to the play, being a University of Chicago faculty child myself and having had a very close bond with my father. I went back and read the play and it leaped off the page at me. It’s such a good play. It’s so sparely, beautifully written and the motor is sort of unusual for a relationship play. It almost feels like, not exactly a detective story, but there is suspense involved in a way that’s really interesting to me and deeply imbedded in the character relationship.”