By Daniel Skora
The DIO – Dining & Entertainment is presenting “Proof”, David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for Best Drama and Tony Award winner for Best Play. The play concerns Robert (Dan Morrison), a mathematical genius whose mental health has declined significantly in his later years, and his daughter Catherine (Esther Jentzen), who has cared for him at the expense of neglecting her own academic studies. Because she has inherited her father’s mathematical abilities, Catherine lives with a deep-seated fear that she, too, might someday suffer a similar mental deterioration.
The play has several shifts in time, and though it opens with father and daughter enjoying a beautiful autumn afternoon on the back porch of their home, we quickly learn that Robert has passed away but a week ago. Robert was a well-respected professor at the university where he taught and was a much-heralded author of mathematical treatises.
Hal (Tristan Rewald), a former student of Robert’s, has volunteered to go through his notebooks to see if anything that he’s left behind might be publishable. Catherine is suspicious of Hal at first, accusing him of stealing one of her father’s notebooks. But she warms to him the night of the funeral and seems to be much improved until her sister Claire (Molly Cunningham), who has arrived from out-of-town to attend the funeral, tells her that she wants to sell the family home and take Catherine to New York. When a math paper that’s discovered in Robert’s desk show’s promise of being an important groundbreaking proof, tempers begin to flare over its authorship.
Auburn covers a lot of territory with his play. Catherine is the play’s central figure even though it’s the mental illness of her father and her own fears of developing it are what give the play its momentum. Along the way, the path Auburn travels delves into academia, Mathematics, and family relations.
The mathematics that is alluded to in the play has mainly to do with prime numbers (whole numbers that are divisible only by one and themselves, e.g. 17 and 29). First time viewers of “Proof” shouldn’t be frightened away by the prospect of having to solve math problems in order to understand the play. If you can balance your checkbook … neigh, even if you can’t balance your checkbook, whatever math skills you have or don’t have are enough to enjoy what the show’s really about,
“Proof” has its funny moments. Robert is the kind of person who seems to have an opinion about everything and he certainly has a lot to say about pasta. Claire, who seems to have had too much of a wonderful time at her father’s wake, can only declare, the morning after, “Boy, can those mathematicians and physicists party!”
There’s much that’s sad in this deeply emotional play: Sad that Robert has gone from a very intelligent man to someone who hardly recognizes the mental infirmity that has befallen him. Sad that Catherine has allowed an all-consuming fear over an unknowable future to ruin her present. Sad that Claire, who has not inherited her father’s intelligence, is not more sensitive to her sister’s emotional instability.
Proof is a gem of a play, an intelligent, thought provoking drama. Though it contains neither dead bodies nor caches of stolen money or jewels, it’s a thrilling academic mystery nonetheless. Director Steve DeBruyne has crafted an impressive production. The show’s appeal begins with the intimate surroundings of the Dio staging area. Proof is a play where nuance is important, and having previously seen “Proof” in a much larger theatre, it’s great to be able to see the facial expressions of the actors. DeBruyne has also assembled an impressive cast, three of whom are new to the DIO stage. Matt Tomich’s set design for the backyard porch of the old house is rustic and welcoming.
There’s an Asian flavor to Chef Jarod’s delicious buffet for the run of this show. On the menu is Asian slaw, spring rolls, lo mein noodles, fried rice, honey garlic broccoli, and sweet and sour pork and chicken. For DIO first timers, the buffet precedes the play, desert is served between acts, and don’t be surprised if a member of the cast might be your server.
“Proof” runs through March 16th. For tickets and information, call 517.672.6009 or go online at www.diotheatre.com. The DIO is located at 177 E. Main Street in downtown Pinckney.