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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Proof’ explores insanity and mathematics

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Too often evidence is confused with proof.” This is what director Jessie Field ’13 wrote in her director’s note about Free Play’s “Proof,” put on last weekend. It is an apt line to keep in mind when thinking about the show.

The play begins with Catherine (Jamie Perutz ’13), a pretty but tired-looking 26-year-old woman sulking in her house, having fallen asleep after drinking alone. Her father Robert (Dave Benger ’14), clearly an intellectual as indicated by his sweater vest and tweed jacket, awakens her by greeting her with a happy birthday before trying to convince her to live differently. The way he talks to her, it appears that she has been idle for about a month now. As she defensively argues with him about her lifestyle choices, it is suggested that she perhaps has mental issues just like her father does. Once Catherine verbalizes these fears out loud, it is revealed to herself and the audience that Robert is actually dead.

This is the groundwork of the plot: Catherine deals with her father’s death and learns how to take care of herself after taking care of him for years. Robert was a very famous mathematician who went insane about five years before his death. As a result, Catherine dropped out of college to take care of him while he spent his time reading books, looking for alien signs in the call numbers and scribbling nonsense into more than 100 notebooks. One of his old students, Hal (Jonathan Plesser ’12), refuses to believe, however, that his notebooks don’t have at least one monumental find that could possibly lead to leaps in the field of mathematics and, more importantly, in his own deteriorating and lackluster career. Soon after, Catherine and Hal begin a relationship and Catherine shows him a notebook that contains the very proof for which he’s been looking. But when she claims it as her own work, Hal is forced to question the authorship. This relationship, combined with the presence of Catherine’s on the surface pleasant but deep down unbelievably threatening sister Claire (played by an incredibly malevolent Caitlin Partridge ’13), weaved into a nonlinear plotline that made “Proof” a show that stayed in mind even days after seeing it.

“Proof” is definitely a drama, but its actors put it on with the personality and comedic tidings of real life. Even when life is at its worst, humans tend to mock it, something the cast wasn’t afraid to do.

The foundation of the show rested on Catherine’s character and Free Play did an amazing job by choosing Perutz. Catherine is inherently a complex character; although she clearly loves her father, she manifests this love by being incredibly defensive and even at some points aggressive in order to protect him. This leads her to be snarky and unpleasant but damned if she’s not the heroine. Perutz’s facial expressions combined with her deadpan tone were a huge part of why the show was enjoyable, as she clearly made Catherine her own. Whether she was questioning her sanity, having an interaction with her father or falling in love with Hal, Perutz was always exactly on the mark.

In fact, though the cast only had four members, each was very well-chosen and each shone brightly in their roles. Partridge’s prissy but dominating role as Claire was pulled off to perfection, and caused the audience to simultaneously seethe and quietly question whether Catherine was crazy or not. And it seems that no one could have pulled off a better Robert than Benger, what with his neurotic little tics that made Robert real, from pressing his fingers against his temples to going on breathless tangents, spouting analogies.

It may be due to everyone else being spectacular that Plesser was not as impressive playing Hal. Indeed, Hal and Catherine’s relationship was probably the most grating part of the play. Their relationship seemed a little contrived at its start, but it might have been because the full extent of their relationship was not revealed until later in the play. That aside, there was something almost too real about the couple, or maybe it was just because they were too “Brandeis,” on account of Hal’s being a mathematician. From Plesser’s walk to the constant presence of his foot in his mouth to his “aw shucks I’m awkward” aura—though it was at first mildly endearing, his character soon got too familiar. In addition, after the start of their romance, there was more making out and gleeful gazing than was necessary for any play. If the amount of make-outs is one of the few complaints of a play, however, that says something about the quality of the production.

The other complaint of the show is the setting of the show. It took place in Schwartz Auditorium, where others have been able to pull off successful productions. For one reason or another, Free Play decided it would be best to utilize the space by bringing in chairs for the audience on the main floor and to have the play take place on a slightly elevated wooden platform. This was probably one of the worst decisions they probably could have made. From the third row in the audience, it was necessary to peer over heads or otherwise lean to the left or right depending on whether the viewer wanted to focus on Catherine or Hal. This would not have been so terrible if the main stage up front had been used, but other than Robert sitting on it once, it went untouched.

Save some uncomfortable moments and an awkward setting, “Proof” was moving and thought-provoking, largely due to an incredibly talented cast.