Just as it’s impossible for us to realize we’re on a planet that is spinning at 1000 miles per hour, while we’re standing still, it’s often difficult for a mentally imbalanced person to recognize their condition.
That is only one of the myriad concepts that arise in Proof by David Auburn, a fascinating play being given a superb production at the Lakeland Civic Theatre. Revolving around a father and daughter, both of whom are gifted but troubled mathematicians, the play peels back layers of both science and humanity—but in a continually entertaining and deeply affecting way.
Auburn’s skill as a playwright is shown from the first scene, which ends with a surprising revelation. And that information fuels the rest of the play, a story that involves heady discussions of mathematical proofs and proof of authorship—not to mention professional ethics and familial trust.
The father, Robert, was a renowned professor of math at the University of Chicago, but his latter days are dogged by a mental decline. His daughter Catherine is also a math whiz but fears she may also share her father’s mental difficulties since she is often depressed and confrontational.
When an astounding mathematical proof is found, Catherine claims authorship but her sister Claire doubts it and Hal, one of Robert’s students, also has his doubts. The interweaving of these four characters is masterfully handled by playwright Auburn, and delivered with professional assurance under the sensitive direction of Martin Friedman.
As Hal, Aaron Elersich is completely natural and affecting as the nerdy Hal, nurturing his growing interest in Catherine while clinging to his inbred skepticism as a scientist. Although a bit too brittle at first, Laurel Hoffman eases effectively into the difficult role of Claire, a balanced woman with a successful life who feels so apart from her sibling and her dad.
Mitchell Fields is brilliant as Robert, displaying both warmth and the core resolve that drive him in his careet. His later scene when he realizes how far his mental capabilities have deteriorated is quietly, profoundly devastating.
And major kudos must go to Elizabeth Conway, who brews up a rich portrayal as Catherine. Walking many fine lines while never overstepping or going for the easy choice, Conway is utterly convincing as this troubled woman endowed with a genius mind. Plus, she’s funny at times, giving the play a much-needed breath of relief now and then.
Proof won a Pulitzer and a Tony for good reason. And this production displays all the reasons why it’s an experience not to be missed.
Through October 7 at the Lakeland Civic Theatre,
Lakeland Community College, Rt. 306 and I-90, Kirtland, 440-525-7134