Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Family’s dynamics add up to winning show

Jonathan Northover (from left), Roberto Guajardo and Jill Baker star in Beowulf Alley Theatre Company's production of "Proof."

Jonathan Northover (from left), Roberto Guajardo and Jill Baker star in Beowulf Alley Theatre Company's production of "Proof."

As someone who stopped taking math classes after the first year of high school algebra, it is impossible to imagine what an “elegant proof” looks like. Is it the opposite of a sloppy proof, full of contradictions, numbers squirting outside the lines?

Making the invisible visible is a seductive fascination with David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Proof.” Successful on the screen as well as onstage, this piece of thought-provoking theater receives a fine local production directed by Sheldon Metz at Beowulf Alley Theatre.

All the characters talk about math as if it is some unexplored land in an unseen world. Apparently, there is a considerable amount of math terrain still to be discovered.

Self-proclaimed math geeks are working day and night pouring over old formulas like ancient maps of forgotten lands. Meticulously, they go about rearranging baskets of numbers into new configurations hoping to find newer answers.

Making brilliant discoveries in math is the obsessive pursuit of every math graduate, convinced there’s nothing more pitiful than an old genius (like, say, 35 years old) who hasn’t staked a claim somewhere on this intellectual terra incognita.

It is the consuming pressure to discover something, anything – as long as mathematics is connected to it – that drives “Proof.” That, and the invisibility of the proof itself.

Auburn sees layers of possibility in this maze of mirrored ethics, where the reflection of something is the opposite of the original – yet both can look equally valid until someone starts slinging the arcane knowledge around until something breaks. Human nature, being equally invisible but infinitely more unpredictable, becomes the X-factor that defies every proof.

Metz keeps the play’s lines of communication as sleek and neat as one of those elegant formulas they talk about incessantly. All four actors move smoothly, making their stage personalities distinct, their thoughts clear. The tables of numbers they love may be multiplying themselves into infinity, but the actors keep their feet firmly planted onstage.

Jill Baker plays Catherine, a woman in her latter 20s who loves her genius father but also feels intimidated by his genius. She would like to be a brilliant mathematician, too, but she lacks the courage. All indications are she could be a genius if she would only apply her natural talent. But depression grips Catherine’s spirit.

She dropped out of college, spent six years caring for her mentally ill father. Now he has passed away. Her excuse to avoid life is gone.

Baker creates this person with a fine use of understatement. Her body language is drawn in, her voice subdued. Yet, we always know exactly what she’s feeling.

In the smaller but pivotal role of Robert is Roberto Guajardo. He plays the ailing genius who is Catherine’s beloved father. At the age of 23, Robert made a magnificent discovery of some important math landscape. But Robert hasn’t discovered anything since, though he has continued teaching at the University of Chicago.

Now time and stress have disintegrated his thought processes. But still he dreams of making one more age-defying breakthrough. Catherine has been helping him, and he has been encouraging her.

Into this relationship steps Hal, played by Jonathan Northover, a Tucson actor of British nationality who comes up with a remarkably natural American accent. Hal is the idealistic graduate assistant at Chicago U. who believes in Robert’s mental prowess. While going through Robert’s piles of notebook compilations, Hal searches for that masterful insight Robert always wanted.

Chris Farishon completes the cast as Claire. She is Catherine’s good sister – the one who studied hard, always did what she was told and now has a successful career as a financial analyst in New York.

Of course, Catherine hates her. Robert applauds Claire’s achievements but the one he loves more is Catherine, which Claire deeply resents.

So when it seems Catherine might have pulled out of her depression long enough to plant the flag of discovery on her own piece of the math world, Claire demands some definite proof.



What: Beowulf Alley Theatre Company presents “Proof” by David Auburn

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays through April 26

Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.

Price: $20 all tickets, discounts online

Info: 882-0555, www.beowulfalley.org

Grade: A

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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