Review of Proof
CATHERINE: It was just connecting the dots. Some nights, I could connect three or four. Some nights they’d be really far apart, I’d have no idea how to get to the next one, if there was a next one.
At face value, David Auburn’s Proof explores the authorship of a supposedly historic mathematic proof about the pattern of prime numbers. The nature of mathematics permeates the piece as three of the four characters are mathematicians. We hear about Germain primes and the number i, game theory and the significance of 1729. What makes Auburn’s play far more compelling are the depth and subtlety with which he explores relationships and the unnerving visage of madness and genius intertwined.
After the main character, Catherine, gives a key to her amour, Hal, she explains, “It’s a key.” Plain and simple, except that Auburn is getting at something more significant. We see that later when Catherine tells Hal, “I trusted you,” indicating that the key was a symbol of their relationship. At this point, however, Hal has failed to reciprocate her trust by refusing to believe that she has written the proof, which the key has unlocked. This proof serves throughout the rest of the play as a cathect for their relationship, a fact Auburn asserts when Catherine says of the proof, “It’s me.” While Catherine claims to have authored this proof, Hal is convinced her recently deceased father, a once brilliant mathematician gone mad, is its composer. Catherine is left to the whims of Hal’s scrutiny of the piece, his conclusions about its source the sole decider of the fate of their relationship.
Struggling in her helplessness, Catherine is left at home with her visiting sister, Claire, who is convinced that Catherine is insane. Before the introduction of the proof, Claire is convinced that Catherine is hallucinating Hal and presses her to produce evidence of his existence. Catherine cannot, which is one of the more glaring moments in which Auburn stresses that we cannot empirically validate the majority of our experiences.
The two sisters fight relentlessly about the proof, the legitimacy of either’s affection for their father, selling their father’s house, and even Catherine’s stability and sanity. Catherine’s despair, brought on by her father’s downward spiral and subsequent death and by Hal and Claire’s rejection of her authorship of the proof, causes her to succumb to Claire’s overbearing will and forceful personality. Because Catherine can offer no evidence to support her own argument, she is left subject to the demands of her older sister.
The true genius of the piece, however, comes with Auburn’s ability to craft the piece. He tells a gripping story rife with emotional turmoil and the difficulties of faith. Better yet, he leaves the truth unresolved, simply presenting us with evidence and allowing us to connect the dots.