Top positive review
Life is not mathematics.
on January 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.