Proof centres around Catherine, the 25-year-old daughter of a brilliant but mentally ill mathematician. In the week after his death, she has to deal with what he has left behind, including how much of her father’s brilliance and how much of his sickness she has inherited. The story asks questions about how we know what is true and when the truth matters – and at what point trust is more important.
David Auburn’s Pulitzer-prize winning play is in capable hands with Rock Solid Productions.
Laura-Marie Smith is commanding as Catherine. Mathematics, we learn, is a man’s world, but it is clear she can hold her own. She can also show her love and admiration for her father without being saccharine. Zoë Balsom plays Catherine’s sister, Claire. She deftly flips between a big time New Yorker “sister knows best” attitude and an honest uneasiness about Catherine’s behaviour. One of the professor’s former students, played by Evan Mercer, rounds out the drama as an ambitious math nerd and Catherine’s possible love interest. The awkwardness of math nerds in lust or love is sometimes adorable and sometimes a little too realistic. But generally speaking, the feels are there.
History M.A. student at MUN, Ashley Ring, is stage-managing the show. She points out that it is not only the line between genius and madness that Proof has to deal with. To avoid being a total downer, this piece needs to balance the depth and grief with some of the humour. “If played differently, the entire play could be very depressing,” said Ring. But in director Mike Daly’s hands, it is actually a funny show. It might pull you through a bit of an emotional wringer, but the comic relief gives you a chance to breathe.
Besides the character-driven drama, Proof takes up bigger questions about mental illness.
The state of mental health care in this province, and the broader conversation about de-stigmatizing mental health issues, has been at the front of everyone’s minds and Facebook feeds. Above all, Proof goes out of its way to frame the professor’s difficulties as an illness, not some sensational lunacy. Rather, the show’s punch comes from Catherine’s reactions to how sad and hard it is to care for someone chronically unwell. How to respond to their father’s illness is a point of tension between Catherine, who left university to take care of him, and Claire, who believes he should have been institutionalized. The question of what would have been best for the professor, and for Catherine, haunts the play. Many families are facing this same dilemma right now. Ring says the play offers comfort to people with personal experience with mental illness. “There’s solidarity in knowing that other people struggle, but there is a way to overcome it,” said Ring.
Rock Solid proves it can balance on that fine line between genius and madness, plus the one between optimism and despair. These are old themes, but this production shows us why we need to hear this kind of story right now. But don’t take my word for it – you better Proof for yourself.
Proof runs from February 1-4 in the Barbara Barrett Theatre (in the basement of the Arts and Culture Centre). For ticket information, call the ACC Box Office: 729-3900.