A play about the search for elusive maths formulas sounds about as exciting as handing out flyers at midnight in the pouring rain. If, however, there is a play by a student company in the Fringe this year with more captivating and exciting acting than “Proof” I will eat my (metaphorical) rain hat.
The plot is elegantly simple. Catherine (Melis Aker) is a twenty-something college drop-out trying desperately to care for her brilliant but mentally ill mathematician father (Andy DeLeon). Following her father’s death Catherine is then forced to confront her father’s twin legacies to her; mathematical brilliance and a predisposition to schizophrenia. To get to this simplicity February 30th Productions, made up of students and recent graduates from Tufts University, have made some significant changes to David Auburn’s play. A scene from the Act Two has been moved to the beginning of the play and, most radically, the play ends at the end of Act One. Not having seen the original play I am loathe to make a comparison; what I can say is that this is a piece of exceptionally taut writing which raises questions about the nature of sanity and legacy without offering any easy answers.
Among a very strong cast Aker gives a stand-out bravura performance as Catherine. This is a character who must in the space of fifty minutes run the full gamut of emotions, being as convincing wise-cracking with her sister as she is groping in the terrifying blackness of possible insanity. It is testament to Aker’s skill that she had the audience hanging on her every word from the moment she rushed on stage concerned about her father to the final shocking revelation. Praise too must go to DeLeon for a sensitive and haunting portrayal of mental illness.
“Proof” is that most frustrating of things for a critic: a play where there is nothing to criticise. I sat there wishing I could find at least one niggle, but it never emerged. The set, though spartan, is well-used and dynamic blocking breaks up what could otherwise become a sedentary piece. Even the sound used to cover scene changes was inspired; rather than music a hypnotic voice muttering mathematical reasoning and theorems.
I left feeling genuinely disappointed that the play was over. Proof of the play’s genius is ever there was one.