One is the loneliest number
All right, I confess. I’m a math geek, and with any luck I’ll be finishing my masters in math in December. So I was excited to see Reno Little Theatre’s production of Proof, a play that won both a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story of a woman who gives up her mathematical studies to take care of her mentally ill father—a one-time math genius. It’s reminiscent of Ron Howard’s movie about mastermind John Nash, A Beautiful Mind.
Looking over the program for Proof—covered in mathematical symbols and equations—the nerd in me rejoiced. But, just as I suspected, math does not take center stage. Instead, the real issues, like most things in life, are about trust, commitment and the choices we make.
The curtain opens, and Catherine discusses her state of mind with her father. Her dad, Robert, insists she is depressed and needs to do something about it. Catherine is not inclined to fix any of her problems, unless it involves drinking her birthday champagne straight from the bottle. Via their dialogue, we learn that Robert has been sick for several years and that Catherine had to drop out of college in order to care for him in Chicago.
Kristen Davis-Coelho as Catherine is able to convey the mixed feelings of a woman forced to nurse her father. On one hand, she is proud of the man who raised her—she loves him and is committed to caring for him. On the other hand, the resentment is undeniable. She feels old beyond her 25 years and is bitter about the education and opportunities she’s missed. By the end of the first scene, Robert dies, and two questions remain: What should Catherine do with her life, and is she well enough to do it?
Catherine is pulled in two directions. Her sister Claire wants her to move to New York, where she can watch over Catherine. In Chicago, there’s Hal—a math professor who is reading through Robert’s journals in search of any lucid research. The idea of being nurtured in New York appeals to Catherine, but her romantic involvement with Hal holds her back. Things become even more complicated when Hal discovers a notebook containing a mathematical proof that only a genius could have produced.
After the intermission, the play travels four years into the past, and we see more of Catherine and Robert’s relationship. David Zybert as Robert comes off as a caring, loving father, but also as a man on the verge of losing it. When Robert finally does break, it’s engaging and heartbreaking. Davis-Coelho and Zybert portray the scene so painfully that I could feel the audience holding their breath.
The rest of the cast is equally skilled. Susan Snook plays Catherine’s uptight sister, Claire. Even though we don’t particularly care for Claire, Snook is successful at making the audience understand her situation. Paul Dancer is endearing as Hal. Dancer is able to give off a nerdy vibe that I immediately liked.
In addition to the talented cast, the story of the play is compelling. Catherine’s character is confronted with many decisions, and no matter what the choice, there are good and bad consequences. As she learns to trust herself and begins to take some leaps, you find yourself cheering for her.
And to all you math phobics out there, you need not worry, the plot and the language will not intimidate you. Proof is about math as much as A Beautiful Mind is, and like A Beautiful Mind, is something wonderful to see.