Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play, PROOF had an extended Broadway success, running 917 performances between October 24 2000 and January 5 2003--no small feat for a drama that encompasses issues of creativity, mental illness, and of all things higher mathmatics.
The overall scope of the play seems generally suggested by the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathmatics genuis who was at the time a "hot" subject due to both a 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and a 1994 biography by Sylvia Nasar as well as the revelation that his genuis had been gradually overshadowed by significant illness--a combination which attracted Hollywood interest and ultimately resulted in the 2001 Academy Award-winning film A BEAUTIFUL MIND. In PROOF, however, the focus is not a mentally ill mathmatical genius based on Nash, but rather on a daughter who has spent many years caring for precisely such a person and who upon his death must deal with not only grief and uncertainty arising from the loss, but the distinct possibility that she may have inherited from her father not only his talent but his madness as well.
The play, which requires four actors and a single unit set, opens with father Robert and daughter Catherine in conversation on the eve of Catherine's birthday. Although intense, the scene appears quite natural until the fact that Robert is dead arises--and Catherine, startled awake, is left unsure if she has merely dreamed or insanely hallucinated. Catherine must now deal with her estranged sister Claire, who has concerns that Catherine may herself be going mad, and one of her father's former students, Hal, to whom she has grudgingly given permission to sort through the papers her father created during his long years of mental illness. She engages in a brief love affair with Rex, comes to trust him, and gives him a key to a locked drawer. When opened, the drawer contains a mathmatical proof: a theorem concerning prime numbers of astonishing genius that Catherine claims she herself has written. But has she? Or has she appropriated her father's last great work?
The play is remarkably elegant, sparse, lean, and with dialogue that communicates as whole instead of merely indicating. The characters are memorably created and extremely believable, and as such PROOF is a truly memorable play, one that places David Auburn in an elite class of playwrights. At the same time, however, PROOF is very much an "art house" play, and while its success on the New York stage is undeniable, it is difficult to imagine a wider-ranging success (a 2005 film adaptation received generally good reviews but found spare acceptance with the public.) This may be due in part to the fact that the play never really offers an overall or concludng statement about the issues it raises, most specifically the possible connection between intellectual brillance and insanity and the fact that fear of going insane can be as devastating as insanity itself; may also be due to the fact that the overall design is shade too pat and neat for complete emotional plausibility. Strongly recommended nonetheless.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer