Memories, Mental Health and Mathematical Genius In This Weekend’s Production of “Proof”

As he opens the door and sighs a heavy breath, Scot Gladstone ’16 walks forward to sit down on a rusty, white chair in Steinbach Theatre. As Elizabeth Latham ’16 enters the stage, Gladstone calls out, signaling the start of the second half of the production “Proof.”

Directed by Kevin Heelan, Instructor in Theatre, the Theatre-920 class’s performances of “Proof” by David Auburn will present a simultaneously dramatic and comedic plot. “Proof” will be performed this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. in Steinbach Theatre.

Heelan said, “It’s funny, it’s got a lot of funny stuff in it. So I thought it would be good, and some other people had suggested it to me through the years here. So I thought I’d just take a shot and try… It’s about brilliant people, like at Andover, which is interesting, but, in this case, flawed. Brilliantly flawed. It’s a drama, but it’s funny.”

The play opens with Catherine, played by Latham, sitting alone in the backyard of her house. Her father, Robert, played by Gladstone, approaches her with a bottle of champagne in celebration of her 25th birthday. Catherine voices her concern about going crazy like Robert, and Robert comforts her but also hints that she may, in fact, be going crazy, considering the fact that he is dead.

“Catherine is a girl who has just suffered the loss of her father. She is kind of a repressed, manic-depressive… [and] is essentially exploding because no one has ever appreciated her for how smart she is,” said Latham. “Everyone is constantly underestimating her because of her gender. She knows about the history of that in the field of math, and the straw that breaks the camel’s back is when no one will believe her about the proof… She’s the most multi-leveled character I’ve played.”

Catherine later meets one of Robert’s students, Hal, played by James Flynn ’16, who attempts to flirt with Catherine and steal one of Robert’s mathematical journals. It is revealed that Robert was a mathematical genius who fell into mental instability towards the end of his life.

Gladstone said, “I always try to find something to play into, to connect with my character. For Robert, it’s a lot different age-wise, and I’m fairly good at math, but I am nowhere near his talent, and I don’t have a love for math like he does, but he’s definitely someone who cares for his family and is selfless in one way, but also wants his family to push themselves and not being lazy, which is kind of what he sees in his daughters.”

Throughout the play, Catherine struggles to come to terms with her father’s mental instability and the possibility that she might inherit his condition, and she continues to explore her tumultuous relationships with Hal and her sister Claire, played by Hannah Berkowitz ’17.

“David Auburn does such a good job going into [Catherine’s] backstory and what makes her become the way she is, it’s interesting to play such a multi-faceted character. The other thing that David Auburn does really well – he’s such a genius – is kind of solidarity, in terms of her lines and linguistic patterns. It’s cool to realize, ‘Oh she says this when she’s annoyed with the situation,’ [or] ‘She only says this line when she’s feeling this way,’ ” said Latham.

One of the play’s most striking features is the unconventional timeline that occurs throughout the plot. Many of the scenes in “Proof” are flashbacks to reveal relationships and plot points that occurred earlier in Catherine’s life.

“It’s a very interesting play, and it keeps you guessing constantly. It’s not chronological. It skips around in time, which can be sometimes confusing, so it’s not as straightforward as a realistic, naturalistic play,” said Heelan.