Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Kavinoky's Powerful Production of Proof: Let x =

Jessica Wegrzyn, Catherine, Jonathan Shuey, Hal, Photo by Simon Faber

To be brutally honest, when I was a young student, I detested math. It was painful. I remember high school days when the teacher would arbitrarily suggest that we "let x equal" something, and then, like coerced, trapped existential number crunchers, agonizingly, we had to prove what that something was. It drove me crazy. I much preferred poetry. Playwright David Auburn apparently fared much better in math. His Proof , written in 2000 won him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play.

Catherine (Jessica Wegrzyn) is the daughter of Robert (Peter Palmisano), a recently deceased math mastermind and University of Chicago professor. Unlike me in math class, she struggles with family genius but also fear of inherited illness thrown in to make her situation dicey.

You may recall the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind based on the life of mathematician John Nash ( Russell Crowe ), who makes a brilliant breakthrough that wins him the Nobel Prize in economics. For a surprising list of many more films about mathematicians (Who would have suspected?), see this compilation which includes impressive titles such as Good Will Hunting , 21 Grams and Stand and Deliver

Dad's grad student Hal ( Jonathan Shuey ) finds a dazzling proof about prime numbers locked in a desk drawer used by Catherine in Robert's office. For those who failed math like me, a prime number has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. For example, 5 is a prime number because only 1 and 5 evenly divide it, whereas number 6 has divisors 2 and 3 in addition to 1 and 6. Are we clear? Would you like to hear my take on the square of the hypotenuse? I thought not.

The title refers both to Robert's supposed proof and the play's central question - can Catherine, who finds herself in a sudden relationship with 28-year-old Hal, prove its authorship? Like Barack Obama's bumpy management of health care, she desperately tries to maintain some control as Robert's later years involve bizarre delusions.

Harold Dobbs is one of Robert's last Ph.D. students when his icon and inspirational mentor's illness goes into remission, and to round out the cast, Claire (Aleks Malejs) is Catherine's older sister, a gritty, take-charge type who fled to New York City to escape from her dysfunctional family.

Auburn has Catherine converse with her father in flashbacks that reveal conflicting desires and an academic career frustrated by arduous responsibilities nursing her sick father. Father and daughter express passion and sometimes anguish for math, and surprise, surprise, there is a strange taste of poetry in their theorems. Catherine's complications are multiple - grief, sibling rivalry, romantic strain, and the terrifying possibility of losing her mind, but what the play is ultimately about is trust, which makes this a terrific contemporary choice for Kavinoky Artistic Director Norman Sham and his excellent cast.

Indeed, who can we trust anymore - government that employs massive NSA surveillance, God who employs and protects pedophile priests, education that sells out to commerce, allies who disappear in times of turmoil, athletic heroes who cheat? And, of course, ultimately ourselves. It can get depressing! And must genius involve difficult mental issues as David Letterman once explored with current math prodigy Daniel Tammet ? Yet another issue to mix into the frothing stew is how to integrate people with mental irregularities such as autism , and finally, how do we prevent their unethical treatment outlined long ago in Aldous Huxley's brilliant 1931 novel, Brave New World ?

Jessica Wegrzyn, Catherine, Photo by Simon Faber   Jonathan Shuey, Hal, Aleks Malejs, Claire, Jessica Wegrzyn, Catherine, Photo by Simon Faber   Jonathan Shuey, Hal, Photo by Simon Faber

Jessica Wegrzyn debuts at Kavinoky as Catherine, and nails the main role, her perilous, lonely, second-guessing life with a slumbering agility and understated wit, an afflicted young woman with boundless potential yet not appreciated, understood or accepted by a doubting boyfriend played by Jonathan Shuey also debuting as Hal. An early Christopher Reeve look-alike, finely angular, he adeptly handles the difficult role of undeserving math nerd would-be love interest yet chief interlocutor of Catherine, aided and abetted in workmanlike fashion by Aleks Malejs (another debut) as Catherine's sister Claire whose inanely simple solution to everything is to pack up and move to NYC. Peter Palmisano 's Robert captures the unbridled enthusiasm and love of math, anguish with aging and losing one's way, the authoritative demanding academic persona and his ultimate unwinding - freezing outside on the porch during a nasty Chicago winter.

With Auburn's tight, terrific play, Artistic Director, David Lamb and Director, Norman Sham offer a wonderful start for Buffalo theatre's New Year at D'Youville College's Kavinoky Theatre, located just across the Peace Bridge for Canadians and well worth a visit. (Ticket price: $39)

"Proof," by David Auburn at Kavinoky, 320 Porter Avenue Buffalo, NY 14201 (716) 829-7668 runs to February 2. See: for more details.

Peter Palmisano, Robert & Jessica Wegrzyn, Catherine, Photo by Simon Faber

Proof - Official Trailer [HD]

Daniel Tammet - The Boy With The Incredible Brain

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