Proof
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Evan Johnson

While pursuing my career as a writer and artist I often wondered if life wouldnít have been simpler if I chose a profession like mathematics. Instead of trying to achieve balance on the razorís edge of art and literature, where it was so easy to fall into an infinite abyss or drift away into some unbearable lightness of insanity, the life of a mathematician seemed well grounded. Spending each day solving problems seemed like a much more stable lifestyle. Alas it wasnít meant to be, and I continue to teeter on the literary edge.

But, to my surprise, in recent years there have been a number of dramas about the underlying instability of mathematical genius. Proof, now playing at Rohnert Park's Spreckels Performing Arts Center, is such a drama. Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Proof takes a penetrating look into the lives of three mathematicians: Robert, played by Stephen Klum, is a famous mathematician who slips into mental illness like a math problem with no solution: his daughter Catherine (Alexandra Matthew), also a gifted mathematician, abandons her university studies to care for her father until his death: and Hal (Michael Smith), a former student of Robert, takes on the daunting task of searching through Robertís work after his death trying to separate mathematical proof from the downward spiral of Robertís deteriorating problems.

But the play ventures beyond the realm of mathematical proof depicting a fascinating parallel between genius and the tendency toward mental instability. Perhaps the ability of creative genius to travel in a higher realm, which goes beyond the five senses, is the very thing that brings that person crashing back to earth with a severe head injury. This is especially true of a mathematician whose most prolific years are between the ages of 20 and 25. When the ability to sore in a multisensory environment declines so quickly there is little time for a therapeutic transition.

This powerful play, written by David Auburn and directed by Hector Correa, maintains a beautiful balance of depth and laughter. When the characters fall, they are always buoyed back up by their sense of humor and understanding of lifeís ironies. For tickets or more information call (707) 588-3400.

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