Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: PROOF

Toby Zinman found this production of PROOF both luminous and moving, making the math as well as the characters accessible and interesting.

Review: PROOF


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Proof,  has found a perfect venue in the intimate Independence Studio on 3 at the Walnut Street Theatre. This luminous production, directed by Kate Galvin, invites you onto the porch  and into the lives of four interesting people.

Unlike so many characters in contemporary plays, these interesting people are all kind and all smart—mathematical wizard smart; nobody is cruel or snide or selfish or violent. Makes a nice change.

Another nice change is how much more coherent and moving the script itself seemed to me in this production, having seen both the original New York production and, a few years later, a local production, and in both the play struck me as inauthentic and contrived.

The plot  revolves around a monumental mathematical genius, Robert (Bill Van Horn) whose beautiful mind snapped years ago; when the play opens, he’s already dead. His younger daughter Catherine (Alex Keiper), who inherited his talent and may have inherited his madness, sacrificed her life and education to care for him.  Her older sister Claire (Krista Apple) turns up for the funeral, and his former grad student protege, Hal (David Raphaely), now a math professor himself, is going through the notebooks his mentor left behind. When he discovers a final notebook containing a ground-breaking elegant proof, the plot turns.

Catherine tells Hal about Sophie Germain, an 18th-century French mathematician who discovered what are now called Germain Primes, a kind of prime number; her story is emblematic of the place of women in higher mathematics, not just in the 18th century, either, and a significant signal in the plot of Proof

The title of  the play resonates in several ways: mathematically, a proof is of a theorem, a series of formal statements showing that one assertion necessarily leads to the next. This kind of proof is hard. Proof, as we generally use the word, is the result of evidence, making it much easier than trust. And Proof is, finally, about trust as well as a proof and the lack of proof about the proof.

All the performances are tender and subtle and absolutely convincing.  The lovely set—a brick wall, old porch furniture, dried leaves caught in the window screens-- is designed by Andrew Thompson, and the lighting, designed by J. Dominic Chacon, is full of charm and significance as night turns to dawn and then morning light breaks.


Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3, 9th and Walnut Sts. Tickets $30. Information: 215-574-3550 or Through Feb.5.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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