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Proof: A Play [Paperback]

David Auburn
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 5 2001
Proof is the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

One of the most acclaimed plays of the 1999-2000 season, Proof is a work that explores the unknowability of love as much as it does the mysteries of science.

It focuses on Catherine, a young woman who has spent years caring for her father, Robert, a brilliant mathematician in his youth who was later unable to function without her help. His death has brought into her midst both her sister, Claire, who wants to take Catherine back to New York with her, and Hal, a former student of Catherine's father who hopes to find some hint of Robert's genius among his incoherent scribblings. The passion that Hal feels for math both moves and angers Catherine, who, in her exhaustion, is torn between missing her father and resenting the great sacrifices she made for him. For Catherine has inherited at least a part of her father's brilliance -- and perhaps some of his instability as well. As she and Hal become attracted to each other, they push at the edges of each other's knowledge, considering not only the unpredictability of genius but also the human instinct toward love and trust.

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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Twenty-five-year-old Catherine, who sacrificed college to care for her mentally ill father (once a brilliant, much-admired mathematician), is left in a kind of limbo after his death. Socially awkward and a bit of a shut-in, she is gruff with Hal, a former student who shows up even before the funeral wanting to root through the countless notebooks her father kept in the years of his decline, hoping to find mathematical gold. On the heels of his arrival comes Claire, Catherine's cosmopolitan, blandly successful, and pushy sister, with plans to sell their father's house and take Catherine (whom she's convinced has inherited a touch of their father's illness) with her back to New York. Catherine does not want to leave, and things become more complicated as she and Hal tentatively begin to develop a relationship. She gives him the key to a drawer in her father's desk, where the "gold" waits-in the form of a notebook filled with the most original and astonishing mathematical proof Hal has seen in years. Thrilled, he wants to take immediate steps to have the proof published in her father's name, until Catherine shocks both him and Claire by declaring that she is its author. Hal's harsh incredulity pushes Catherine into an indifferent funk, sorely disappointed by the insult of having to prove her honesty to a friend she had trusted. There is much to appeal to YAs in this Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, which crackles with subtle wit while tackling large questions.

Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

After the death of her mathematical genius father, Catherine, who gave up her own study of mathematics to tend to him, claims that she is the author of a mathematical proof found in the attic among his unpublished, mostly incoherent notebooks by Hal, one of his former students. But what "proof" does Catherine have that she, and not her father, is the author? Her older sister, home to attend the funeral, doubts her claim and, in fact, doubts Catherine's own sanity. Hal, who has professional ambitions of his own, isn't exactly disinterested and may not be trustworthy; his sleeping with Catherine has also complicated the issue. The elusiveness of genius in general and the difficulty of a mathematical proof in particular here become metaphors for the uncertainties of love, trust, and personal integrity. This wonderful play has already won the Kesselring Prize for Auburn, also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Proof's deft dialog, its careful structure, and the humanity of the central characters are themselves proof of a major new talent in the American theater. Strongly recommended for all drama collections. Robert W. Melton, Univ. of Kansas Libs., Lawrence
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Sanity in a crazy world May 1 2004
By Rosebud
I saw Proof performed a couple years ago on Broadway, and have read the script twice since. Any performance of Proof hinges on the casting of Robert (an aging mathemetician) and Catherine (his daughter). The performance I saw had two magnificent actors in these roles, which smoothed away some of the rough edges of the script itself.
Don't get me wrong; this is an amazing piece of playwriting, better than 99% of everything else out there. But the setting of the play is so very static, and its language so toned down, that it takes a very talented and entertaining group of actors to pull it off. The writing of Proof is very much like Chekov -- brilliant, but somewhat unapproachable.
(Drama teachers take note: this is a great play for students to improve their acting skills, but a terrible play for students to actually perform.)
The plot, if not the style, of this play can be compared to the style of the recent big-budget film (based on a novel) Big Fish. But in that comparison Proof comes off looking brilliant, and Big Fish comes off looking overwrought. If this play is done right, there is a moment toward the end that can compete -- in terms of sheer pathos and emotionality -- with anything Sophocles ever wrote. Watch for the stage direction: "After a long moment Catherine closes the notebook." It brought tears to my eyes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An intellectual inspiration Feb. 18 2004
I'm glad I saw this one on a stage. This play is an emotional experience that jumps back and forth over five years in the lives of four people. Mathematics is the field within which individual creative activity is sought, but the interesting question about thought at such a high level is how anyone could establish authorship of anything that is authentically new if the circumstances allow some ambiguity. The big joke in the play is about a young mathematician who is drummer in a rock band that performs an imaginary number. It helps if the viewer is familiar with the movie "A Beautiful Mind," as the young mathematician-rock-drummer would be an ideal imaginary character if this play was about John Nash, as seeing people in that movie was not always proof that they existed. The real question that hangs over the future in this play is how crazy anyone is likely to be in the short run and the long run, or if they can muddle through the emotional times without too much of some of the worst alcoholic beverages ever to be mentioned on a stage anywhere.
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5.0 out of 5 stars You do the math Feb. 11 2004
By A Customer
Brilliant writing; Brilliant plot; Brilliant dialogue; Brilliant insight: You do the math. This one is a stellar accomplishment, full of sound and fury, signifying just about everything.
I saw this on Broadway, going into it not knowing anything about it. I was completely blown away. The premise is fascinating and it presents a unique and interesting dilemma without being melodramatic.
The writing, scene changes, and excellent characterizations remind me of other writers out there: Miller comes to mind, McCrae's Bark of the Dogwood (though a book, not a play) and even the great Hitchcock. Don't get me wrong--this is not some inept mystery but rather a psychological thriller of sorts, excellently paced and plotted. But I don't mean "thriller" in the commercial way. No, this is one unusual play, and obviously deserved every prized it ever won. Who knew that someone could take such a dry subject as math and create something as wonderful, lush, and eloquent as "Proof."
Also recommended: Death of a Salesman, Angels in America, Bark of the Dogwood, Painting Churches.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a great contemporary play July 26 2003
For those naysayers who lament the death of the theatre, David Auburn's brilliant, intimate, touching ode to the mysteries of life, family, love and identity offers proof that contemporary playwrights are indeed creating brilliant works of art.
Using four well drawn, three dimensional characters, Auburn paints a vivid portrait of a late mathemetician and his legacy of madness and genius. His youngest daughter may have inherited both as the play centers around identifying the authorship of a magnificent mathematical proof (which ends up being a brilliant use of Hitchcock's "McGuffin" rule).
Auburn creates a play filled with an excellent series of suprises, revelations and passionate debates. His narrative is well structured as it provides the actors with clear objectives and a variety of tactics to explore and enact, all engaging the audience's attention and energy.
Four of my friends recently produced the play and produced an evening of magic. A great theatrical experience demands a strong story to tell and Auburn provides such a vehicle with this, his Pulitzer Prize winning work.
A brilliant piece of writing. A must read for theatre fans and practitioners alike. A most producable work as well. It would make for a fine addition to any theatre season.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Life is not mathematics. Jan. 6 2003
David Auburn's play, "Proof," tackles the clear-cut vs. the unquantifiable elements of life. Robert and his daughter, Catherine, are gifted mathematicians. Robert was once a brilliant teacher who made groundbreaking discoveries in his field. Tragically, he became mentally ill in his twenties, and he has never fully recovered. Catherine, age 25, has sacrificed her formal education, her social life, and even her sense of self to care for her father and keep him out of an institution.
When Robert dies suddenly, Catherine's older sister, Claire, flies in to Chicago from New York for the funeral. Claire is an actuary who has paid the family's bills for years, but she has led a full and successful life apart from her father and sister. The two sisters have a series of bitter arguments about guilt, responsibility and Catherine's future. Complicating the mix is a fourth person, Harold Dobbs, Robert's former student, who is interested both in Robert's notes and in Catherine herself.
Auburn's play makes the point that higher mathematics is elegant and complex, but it is ultimately quantifiable. A proof either works or it does not. Life isn't like mathematics. It is messy, emotional and open-ended. As the characters interact (including the character of Robert in flashback), all of the pain and suffering that they have felt for years come to the surface. All four characters reveal their hopes, fears and regrets.
"Proof" has an intimacy and an intensity that is extremely powerful. How much does a child owe his or her sick parent? What responsibility do we have to ourselves? How do we handle the situations in life that have no clear-cut solutions? Since life is not mathematics, there are no answers to these questions. However, Auburn implies, it is in the nature of people to keep trying, even though there are never any guarantees that our efforts will bring us happiness, love or fulfillment.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars "Proof"
When I had to read a play for my drama class, my drama teacher handed me this play which I didn't have much hope for. Read more
Published on April 9 2004 by "lancebass3539"
5.0 out of 5 stars Proof for Pleasure
IF you are into sarcastic humor and enjoy some dry wit this is a book for you. Short w/ the sweet and sour sauce it will fit your taste buds to a T. Awesome read
Published on Dec 17 2003 by lizbeth
5.0 out of 5 stars Deservedly won the Pulitzer and Tony
I have read David Auburn's play, and saw it on Broadway with Jennifer Jason Leigh in the lead. Even though the performance I saw was less than stellar, the brilliance of the... Read more
Published on March 14 2003 by K. Schwarting
3.0 out of 5 stars "Banging On An Already Open Door"
David Auburn should be congratulated for having achieved the nearly impossible, writing a play every bit as boring and every bit as successful as the soporific... Read more
Published on July 6 2002 by Stanley H. Nemeth
5.0 out of 5 stars Great To Read, Great To See
The story of Proof somehow jumped at me like no other play had before. I have seen the play twice. I didn't see it in New York, but I saw the first regional production of the play... Read more
Published on June 5 2002 by W. Norris
5.0 out of 5 stars Proof positive
David Auburn tells a very human tale of genius and mathematical discovery in the context of the larger struggle of finding a place for oneself. Read more
Published on April 22 2002 by Bukkene Bruse
Not since David Hirson's brilliant La Bete and Wrong Mountain has Broadway seen a more exciting play than Proof! Read more
Published on April 4 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Auburn Proves Himself
In Proof, Auburn has written a wonderful play, taking on some very key characteristics of humanity. Especially wonderful is the father-daughter relationship between Robert and... Read more
Published on Dec 16 2001 by "plattypus"
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