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 Walnut Creek’s Playhouse West, 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 Jonathan Farwell, is a famous mathematician who slips into mental illness like a math problem with no solution: his daughter Catherine (Sorsha Miles), also a gifted mathematician, abandons her university studies to care for her father until his death: and Hal (Zach Hummell) a former student of Robert takes on the daunting task of searching through Robert’s work after his death trying to separate mathematical proof from the downward spiral of Robert’s deteriorating problems.
Director Lois Grandi was drawn to the play “in part because of the fascinating parallel drawn 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, 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 life’s ironies. For tickets or more information call (925) 943-7469.
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