by David Auburn
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Featuring Mary-Louise Parker
Walter Kerr Theatre / 219 West 48th Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

There’s a severe limit on what I can tell you about "Proof", because—as many of you know—I never like the idea of spoiling a good story…and "Proof" springs the first of its several big surprises on you early, probably five minutes in. I can, I suppose, tell you that it’s about Catherine (Mary-Louise Parker), the grown daughter of Robert (Larry Bryggman), a mathematician who revolutionized the field in his early years. Catherine has inherited some of his gifts and, she fears, some of his problems too; there’s a reason why his mathematical mind began failing him after a time. But there’s Hal (Ben Shenkman), a grad student of Robert’s, to help Catherine sort out some of Robert’s possibly-promising raw material; and Claire (Johanna Day), Catherine’s older sister—a meddler, but not a stupid or insensitive one, who takes it upon herself to help Catherine sort out her life.

If David Auburn’s new play sounds merely like a domestic drama in a college town (the town is a suburb of Chicago, by the way), that’s because of the things I can’t tell you: those elements that make it something of a mystery, and in its own canny way, something of a mathematical working-out of the human spirit. I can tell you it is often surprisingly funny, touching when you least expect it to be, an extremely articulate portrait of extremely articulate people, and very convincingly human. The playwright skates a bit here and there on the implication of a great mathematical proof whose sum and substance never quite makes it onstage (not that most of us would understand it, if it did), but he just manages to keep it at bay without making it seem the concocted McGuffin upon which the tale hinges—which, structurally, it is.

I can also tell you the play is sensitively directed by Daniel Sullivan and acted by all hands in the manner of a delicately balanced chamber ensemble. And if the fetching Ms. Parker is the first among equals here, it is only because she is so unmistakably the heart—and at the heart—of the play.

I wish I could tell you why that play is among the best of the season—but believe me, it truly is. And if you hie to the Walter Kerr Theatre for a gander, you will, I promise, have all the "proof" you need…

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