It will be five years this June that I first became involved with Opening Nite Theatre. My husband and I had recently moved to Mission from Vancouver, and while leafing through one of the local rags I came across an audition notice for a couple of upcoming ONTs productions. I showed up. And here I am. Thrilled and delighted to bring David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, ‘Proof’, to the ONTs stage and to you, our patrons.
As dedicated theatre geeks, we strive to present material that not only entertains but also enlightens and expands. That serves to enrich the experience for the participants, and challenge the actors and audience alike. ‘Proof’ provides this opportunity in spades.
Full disclosure: this is a mature play with mature themes, and coarse language. And by coarse language I mean the f bomb is dropped throughout, just as one might expect it to be among the interactions of depressive intellectuals. So, not gratuitous at all.
Skirting the perimeter of the University of Chicago campus, the play is set on the back porch of an academic’s house in Hyde Park. We meet Catherine, a young woman who has put the last four years of her life on hold to care for Robert, her brilliant and very sick father, who, in his heyday made ground breaking advances in the field of mathematics. Robert’s death brings Hal, an ex student of Robert’s to the home, to scrutinize the dozens of journals and to attempt to decipher if there is anything of value hidden among the ramblings of the mad, elegant mind.
Enter Claire, Catherine’s older sister who has come to town for the funeral and to tidy up loose ends. There exists between the two women not so much a rivalry, as an otherliness, a sense of isolation one too often feels within one’s own family. It is this very otherliness that Catherine fears. Like her father, Catherine has a gift for numbers and suspects she might also have inherited his demons. Claire, unburdened by her father’s genius, has worked to carve out a career and a life for herself in New York, and has been the financial support for both Catherine and Robert in his final years. Now that their father is dead she has decided the best thing for Catherine is to return with her to New York where she can care for her, keep a close eye on her, and see that she gets the help she believes she needs.
A bond develops between Catherine and Hal, and Catherine entrusts him with the key to a locked drawer in Robert’s study — a drawer in which Hal discovers a brilliant mathematical proof. Both Hal and Claire are shocked and less than supportive when Catherine claims authorship. As events unfold, haunted by her father’s genius and demons, Catherine must summon the courage to face her own, and to tread the waters of potential madness lightly. And only if she must.
This is as much a story of trust and betrayal, of love and loyalty – of the things that bind us together in our humanity and the things that rip us apart, as anything. The word “proof”, comes from the Latin probare, to test. And David Auburn certainly puts his characters to the test here.