Thursday, November 4, 2010

Proof by David Auburn (2001)

Summary:  After the death of her mathematician father, Catherine is left to negotiate a relationship with her sister Claire (who appears to completely have her life together) and Hal, a former doctoral student once advised by her father.  Allusions are made to her father's mental illness which 25 year-old Catherine believes she has inherited.  Ultimately, the Hal discovers a notebook containing a revelatory mathematics proof which would prove Robert's genius.  However, Catherine claims that she wrote the proof.  Claire and Hal are forced to question Catherine's potential genius and the lasting legacy of troubled Robert.

Thoughts:  One of the reasons that I find myself attracted to Edward Albee's plays is the way he writes fighting--sometimes ruthless and often nonsensical and emotional rather than logical.  Now on my third read of Proof, I find myself attracted to Auburn's dialogue for the same reason.

We know that Robert was a genius who went "crazy" and that Catherine feels the madness might have been passed down to her--but the type of mental illness or any sort of specific diagnosis is never mentioned.  Somewhat hauntingly, the play is dedicated "In memory of Benjamin Auburn (1972-2000)."

There are two major "wowza!" moments in this play.  One comes in the middle of Scene One after an eight-page conversation between Catherine and her father as he states mid-scene, "Because I'm also dead.  (Beat.)  Aren't I?"  She responds, "You died a week ago."  From this moment on , Auburn's structure does not follow linear chronology.  This deliberate stylistic choice allows him flexibility and new perspective in exploring yet another family drama (much like style is at the forefront of How I Learned to Drive).  Additionally, although Robert is dead, the non-chronological structure allows us to see him as "madness" begins to set in and then overtake.  The second wowza moment closes Act One as Catherine states, "I didn't find it.  I wrote it.  (Curtain.)"  While "wowza!" moments are highly theatrical and inspire whispers at intermission, Auburn also succeeds at making them shocking in print...certainly not an easy feat.

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