There are complex problems in “Proof.” And none of them are mathematical.
The most complex are the human emotions that propel the characters in the David Auburn piece, which the University of Arizona’s Arizona Repertory Theatre opens in previews Sunday, Feb. 5.
Here are three reasons to catch the play:
1. The story: Catherine is the daughter of Robert, a recently-deceased mad mathematical genius. When he first began to show signs of mental deterioration, Catherine gave up her math studies to move home and care for him. It’s clear she’s inherited his knack for numbers. Not so clear: Did she inherit his madness, as well? Hal, one of Robert’s former students, comes to the house to sift through his papers, hoping that some clarity might have seeped through the madness. He comes across a brilliant mathematical proof, but is skeptical when he learns who the author of the proof is. Catherine’s sister is home for the funeral and concerned that her frail sister is more mentally unstable than mathematically adept.
2. The playwright: Auburn was just 31 when he snagged the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony for “Proof.” In a 2002 interview with the Star, Auburn said he laughs when people call “Proof” a math play. The subject just happened to be a fine background for the story he wanted to tell. “I wanted to write about a discovery after a parent’s death,” he said, adding that he happened to be reading a book on mathematics about the same time he was formulating a play that touched on the subjects of congenital mental illness and a post-death discovery. “A math proof was a compelling object to be discovered,” he said. “The authorship could be called into question, and it could be the center of a family dispute.”
3. The director: Hank Stratton joined the University of Arizona faculty at the beginning of this school year. He wasted no time in making his mark: The Arizona Rep production of “Born Yesterday,” which opened in November, was fresh and smart and featured fine performances. Stratton brings an extensive movie, theater and television résumé to his job working with students. His expertise shows in his work.