Some days the themes of a play directly correlate to one’s personal mindset, making for an especially layered and impactful experience. While you can’t always predict your mood (or the mood of the rest of the audience) or how it will mix with the art presented, Hillbarn’s Proof proved to parallel my mindset that afternoon, enhancing my enjoyment of an already reputable piece and production.
A play both poetic and calculated at its core, the 4 character play addresses some tough questions and poses some difficult scenarios with a balance of wit and drama. Care-giving for aging parents, one’s reputation, women in science, grief, relationships both romantic and otherwise, Proof is a wonderful glimpse at both universal challenges and individual struggles.
This is nicely woven play with a lot peaks and valleys. There’s a lot going on in the silences which I appreciated (a testament to the talent and the direction.) The chemistry between Hal and Catherine was genuinely played. The banter between them was both well written (some of my favorite dialogue in the whole play) and well delivered. Moments between Catherine and her father were sufficiently tender and natural. We get a sense of their bond immediately and the progression of how it heartbreakingly alters are some of the strongest moments of the production. The strain was certainly felt between Catherine and her sister Claire, and while it was easy to see they were at odds fundamentally through the writing and execution, this is the one relationship I would have liked to see a bit more investment from both playwright and production. I think there were even more levels that could have been played, more instances where they almost connect and then it’s even more obvious why they just won’t ever be able to understand the other’s view point. I could see Claire being even more vulnerable at times and helping us to feel her frustration instead of Catherine’s almost exclusively. Claire is made out to be a bit more of an antagonist than I think I wanted her to be.
Technically, I felt the set and costuming were very strong (I particularly liked that it is done in one location, all outside, helping us to forget at times we are looking at a stage production.) Transition music was sincerely lovely and the quick changes I believe defied the time/space continuum on occasion. While overall I felt the lighting was ambient and practical, there were a few odd lighting transitions that were rather noticeable and distracting.
Structurally I love how this play echoes mathematical process directly and metaphorically. Plot and relationships are written in a way that mimic proof by contraposition (if x then y, the “contraposition” being if not x than not y) proof by exhaustion (dividing each conclusion into many segments and proving each one separately to prove the whole) and noncontructive proof (in which often the nonexistence of the object is proved to be impossible, therefore proving its existence.) Math is used as simply fact of circumstance in this play as well as a coping mechanism and a way to relate and process things. It’s very clever and it gets you thinking about how we as a society, more often than not, seek answers to even the most impossibly unanswerable questions.
We ache to make sense of things that don’t translate directly into words or have obvious method to their madness. We yearn to harness the chaos of our world and neatly organize it into logical, linear outcomes. We seek an elegant, efficient, result. And, while we engage in this exercise, we mostly know the idea of taking something as abstract as intuition, emotion and trust and trying to apply a formula to it is absurd. Absurd, and yet we do it over and over, often times arriving time and time again at the very same blank page.
The other side of this (also addressed very well in Proof) is that at the same time we are calculating, we struggle with being forced to prove what we FEEL, what we ultimately, instinctually KNOW is true without having to “show our work.” We question why doubt must enter into the equation at all when there is something bigger than a succinct phrasing of words or a sum on the right hand side of the equal sign feeding us. As if putting down our thoughts into two columns will make sense the seemingly arbitrary complex, cosmic geometry.
Ultimately, maybe compartmentalizing our fears and our unknowns gives us the answer that there is no answer, which somehow is comforting an answer enough. Perhaps just the process, going through the motions of looking for the proof, buys our brains the time it needs to catch up with our hearts. Sometimes the journey to an answer is more important than a finite result. We call it grey matter maybe because we tend to get stuck in our heads and while there we realize how our brain relates to our heart is not at all black and white., but rather a blend.
So this play is a thinker (at least it was for me) and a feeler and in case you couldn’t tell, might send you off on an internal tangent, which is good to do from time to time. I like to think good art does that and so Proof gets 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a solid and astute production of a thought-provoking play. Proof plays through March 29th at the Hillbarn Theatre in Hayward.