Proof: Love, math and mystery

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

Things are not always as they seem in "Proof," a brand-new play opening Friday at Perseverance Theatre. But one message is clear: mathematicians rock.

"Proof," a new play by David Auburn, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Tony Award. Part mystery, part love story, "Proof" features three mathematicians and a currency analyst. One plays in a rock band and one is a world-class genius; the other two are sisters. Set entirely on the back porch of a family home near the University of Chicago, the play looks at five days in the lives of these four intimately connected characters.

Actor J.M. Foldy called "Proof" a great, straightforward play. The characters may be somewhat exceptional, but are everyday people in many ways.

"Everybody can relate to having parents, to success, the desire to be in love and succeed in your career; all those things are there in a very accessible way," said Foldy, who plays Hal, a student of the math genius and a part-time drummer.

Foldy, 29, is a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama. He left his New York City home this summer to sing and act in "Alaska or Bust," a tourist-oriented show in Denali National Park. Perseverance Theatre snagged him for "Proof" and the upcoming Shakespeare production, "The Winter's Tale."

"Proof" tells the story of Catherine, a young woman whose father was a renowned mathematician before falling victim to mental illness. Catherine quit college to stay in Chicago and care for her father, while her sister Claire moved to New York and supports the family from afar. The play opens on Catherine's 25th birthday.

"She is a little unstable. She hasn't had any social contact or anything for four years. She's just been caring for her father," said Sara Waisanen, who plays Catherine. "She's been with this man who is crazy, but also brilliant, and she's lived with him her whole life."

Hal finds a remarkable mathematical proof among Catherine's father's papers, a proof of astronomical importance. One of the play's mysteries is who wrote this proof.

Waisanen, 24, played Ahab last spring in Perseverance Theatre's production of "Moby Dick." Raised in Soldotna, she studied theater and acting in Anchorage and Dallas. "Proof" offers a chance to flex her actor muscles, she said.

"For an actor, it's a good workout," she said. "It's a wild ride."

Although the script eloquently tells the story, Waisanen said it also offers the actors tremendous flexibility.

"You can play these lines so many different ways," she said. "It keeps changing and the nice thing about it is it keeps growing."

"Proof" director Terry Cramer, who opened Perseverance's season last year as the director of "Wit," said she experimented with that flexibility to develop the play.

"This script is best served by misdirecting the audience, so the surprise is greater," she said.

That can be tricky, she said. With a mystery it's important not to reveal too much information too early. Glances between actors, eye contact, tone of voice and the pace of the dialogue profoundly affect the unfolding of the story.

"The dialogue in the script reads beautifully. It sounds natural, like people talking," she said. "But it's not clear where they're talking from, emotionally."

Where they're talking from emotionally reveals the complexities of the characters, and heightens the suspense. Cramer and the actors repeatedly worked the scenes, emphasizing different emotions to find the perfect balance.

Charlie Cardwell plays the senior mathematician, the father of Catherine and Claire. Cardwell has appeared in numerous Perseverance productions over the years, most recently in "Angels in America." Asha Falcon, who was literally raised at Perseverance Theatre (her family lived in an apartment which is now the front lobby of the theater), plays Claire.

Cramer and Weisanen love the fact that the entire play is set on a porch.

"It's very humbling as an actor and audience," Waisanen said. "You're not allowed to see what's inside. There's a world beyond and behind, but we're all hanging out here in the middle."

Cramer's father was an architect and she said the play reminds her of a conversation she had with him once about porches, which are entrances and exits.

"You're not inside or outside, you're making a decision about which way to go," she said.


Riley Woodford can be reached at

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