Proof

by David Auburn

Proof had 4 performances about 5 years ago (between the 10th of April 2013 and the 13th of April 2013) at The Riverhouse Barn

169th production. Proof is a 2000 play by American playwright David Auburn. Premiered Off-Broadway in May 2000, it transferred to Broadway theatre in October 2000. The play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

It is a domestic setting in Chicago. Catherine is feeling depressed, and is celebrating her birthday alone – at least until her father joins her and insists she have some champagne. They get talking about why she is alone and she wonders whether she may be starting to lose her mind. Robert reassures her she is fine – “crazy people don’t ask themselves if they are crazy!” He ought to know, he’s crazy himself – but then is it healthy for Catherine to be taking advice from a dead guy?

Robert died the week before the play starts, but appears several times in flashback and in Catherine’s imagination. He was a genius mathematician, frustrated throughout his illness by the fact he lost his gift, and he strives constantly to be able to work again. The play starts the day before his funeral, and continues as the family decide what to do with the house which is not only where he lived, but also where Catherine lives while she looked after him for the last five years.

Catherine has certainly inherited something from her father – but is it his madness or his genius? Her life has had no fun; she missed out on a proper youth looking after her father and she had to abandon her own maths studies to become his full time carer.

Her sister Claire now has a new life in New York and wants take Catherine back there ‘to look after her’ more easily (and get her a good shrink). She is convinced Catherine is unstable, and has the legal power to sell the house that she has lived in almost all her life. Also central to the plot is Hal, one of her father’s maths students who has agreed to take a look at his old stuff to see if there is anything worthwhile. He and Catherine have a drunken liaison, but it’s not clear what either of their motives are.

The key drama and the mystery aspect of this play concerns the discovery of an explosive mathematical ‘proof’ – a handwritten notebook containing proof of a mathematical theorem that will have an enormous impact on the scientific world and fame and fortune for the genius behind it. But who wrote it? Robert? or Catherine? does anyone care? and who can prove it either way?

Above all Proof asks: when scientific proof is not available, how do we learn to trust people, especially ourselves?

A word about maths There are a few lines discussing maths in some depth, and a little bit of jargon scattered around. There are also a number of jokes about nerds and geeks, all delivered by those in the very heart of that world. That’s because it happens to be a play with maths as its subject matter – but neither the actors nor, crucially, the audience need to understand anything about the maths in order to follow the plot or enjoy the drama. These are personal stories with drama, pathos and plenty of wry humour - we even get to hear a performance of ‘Imaginary Number’ from the maths geeks’ rock band…

Production

This is a fairly simple play to stage, with modern costumes and a single static set of the back porch, deck, and garden of Robert and Catherine’s house in Chicago. The play is in two Acts with four scenes in each at various times of day and night. Atmosphere is important since the play is very contained over a short period - although the flashbacks allow for a change of season to midwinter, with snow falling… I hope!

Application pdf

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Click here to download a copy of the flyer for this production.

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Catherine - Kiran Millwood Hargrave

(mid 20s) The central character - a complex, possibly unstable, certainly somewhat depressed, young woman with a fierce intelligence. She has a mistrustful and slightly paranoid reaction to people who try to look after her. On the other hand she has had to witness and live intimately with the disintegration and death of her beloved father at a time no one else cared, and her reaction to that may be perfectly natural. Excellent acting part for someone who is committed to the part – she carries virtually every other line in the play. Gwyneth Paltrow played her in the film.

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Robert - Keith Kimnell

Catherine’s father (60s) A smaller, but nevertheless key, role. Robert appears several times in imagination and flashback to relay the back-story and to challenge and guide Catherine, and to inadvertently torment her as she battles with ‘becoming like him’. A wonderful part (played by Anthony Hopkins in the film) - as his own instability takes grips, he appears increasingly loving and lucid – great pathos.

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Claire - Emma Thompson

Catherine’s sister (late 20s- 30s) Claire can come off the page as heartless, selfish and plain wrong – never helping with father till it was too late and coming down to take Catherine away and mop up the memories of whatever lives remain in Chicago. She will be a more three dimensional character if she is played strong but her concern for Catherine comes over as real and well-meaning, even if somewhat misguided. Catherine’s disdain for Claire indicates more of Catherine’s insecurity and instability than any suggestion that Claire is a monster.

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Hal - Jamie Frier

A maths student (ideally 20s) Probably the most lines after Catherine, but a very different type of part. Hal is here as a dramatic catalyst - we see slightly less of his character than that of others. His actions move the plot along and his scepticism is at the heart of the mystery about who owns the ‘proof’. There is genuine tenderness for Catherine, and a genuine wonder at the maths and the possibilities this proof might bring. Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie.

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Director and Sound Design - Mark Humble

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Stage Manager and Set Assistant - Clare Pinnock

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Set Design and Construction - John Godliman

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Set Assistant - Emma Dudley

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Set Assistant - Bill Payne

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Set Assistant - Adam Roberts

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Set Assistant - Linda Russell

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Set Assistant - Ian Thomas

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Set Assistant - Liz Thomas

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Set Assistant - Simon Waller

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Set Assistant - Jenny Waller

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Lighting - Carolyn Menteith

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Lighting - Nigel Greenaway

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Sound Design and Operation - Ian Santry

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Continuity - Anna Beuden

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Flyer and Poster Design - Anne Nunn

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Publicity - Gillian Smithies

Original

Publicity - Frankie Godliman

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Front of House Manager - Colin Dolley

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Photography - Alan Bostock (www.photoeyes.biz)