Thursday, 6 February 2014

Proof - review

You do the math
Ensemble Theatre
78 McDougall Street
Kirribilli Australia 2061
5 February 2014

Credit: Ensemble Theatre


Reviewed by Benjamin Oxley
There is a marked contrast between the purity of mathematics and the awkwardness of human relations. The father's frustration of losing the "geyser" flow, the elegance, the machine - his beautiful mind.

Matilda Ridgway's towering performance is backed by her high maths background: before drama school intervened, she was following her dad into a career with a beautiful mind.

Catherine's knowing "You can feel it coming" was reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn in Adam's Rib: "All I'm trying to say is that there's lots of things that a man can do and in society's eyes it's all hunky-dory. A woman does the same thing - the same thing, mind you - and she's an outcast."

There's a pointed take on the male-dominated milieu of math, and a talented lady's recognition as their equal.

"It comes back to zero"

It received a Pulitzer Prize, Tony award for best play and NY Drama Critics Circle Award in 2001. The play was then adapted for the silver screen in 2005 in a version starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.

What makes the play deep and urgent is that Catherine is motivated by conflicting desires. She wants to be a great mathematician, but does not want to hurt or shame her father.

At worst, she doesn't believe in her own ability. It's essentially about a woman whose destiny is in her own hands, but she can't make them close on it.
One of the major ideas in the play is the notion of "legacy" — how the gifts and the burdens of genius are passed on. There is a resonance with Galileo and his remarkable daughter Maria Celeste in Brecht's Life of Galileo.

Hal, played by earnest Adriano Cappelletta, one of Robert’s former students, is a nerdy presence in the house. He has been sifting through Robert’s scribbled notebooks to see whether there was anything significant to match his youthful brilliance.

Claire (think Eunice Burns from What's Up Doc?) gave Catherine McGraffin a study in protective propriety.

A heavily bearded Michael Ross, charting between the playful and prosaic, depicts absent-minded Robert with deprecating gestures and a ingratiating voice. Interesting that he once tutored both the girls at drama school.

Full marks to Sandra Bates and her set designer, Graham Maclean provide visual circumstances that seem equally natural and urgent. Particularly effective at establishing the deep bond of love are the 'surprise' entries by Catherine and Robert.

Bates' direction brings tremendous tension to the scenes, with most of the lines delivered face to face between Catherine and Robert, and Hal.

Music aptly informs the play's subject, with Bach, Brahms, and the more contemporary Hiller and Cantor linking the cerebral and complex plot.

Seeing this with my daughter was slightly surreal. But as another writer has noted, it's not so much maths as chemistry. See what you think.

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