Love and math add up in ‘Proof’ from McLean Community Players

The writing is moving and the production shines.

What is proof? How can one bring forward a series of assumptions that guarantee an irrefutable truth? It is the central question of David Auburn’s Proof, now in performances by the McLean Community Players (MCP), which tells a tender story about love and math.

This 2001 Tony-award–winning play tells the story of Catherine and her father, Robert, a renowned professor of mathematics, and his decline and eventual death living with mental illness. A mystery arises when one of Robert’s former graduate students (and Catherine’s current romantic interest), Hal, discovers an extraordinary mathematical proof when helping to clear out his former mentor’s office. Yet who wrote it? The play unravels, through a series of flashbacks, to raise questions of the truth: of the proof’s authorship, of Catherine and Hal’s relationship, and of Catherine’s belief in herself.

Ernest Fleischer as Hal and Jess Rawls as Catherine in ‘Proof.’ Photo by Claire Tse.

This MCP production shines in different parts. Among the cast, Jess Rawls is strong as Catherine, showing vulnerability as she deals with the demise of her father (Dave Wright) and her relationship with Hal (Ernest Fleischer). Hilary Sutton’s Claire, who along with Hal questions the proof’s origins, is also particularly well cast; she plays the loving yet questioning older sister naturally, belying Sutton’s seven-year absence from the stage.

On the technical side, the lighting (from Ari McSherry) is effective in showing the passage of time in a play that frequently shifts between years. Adam Parker’s sound design is also well done, both in terms of the sound quality in a large Alden Theater (kudos also to sound operator Claire Tse) and the musical interludes, which bring a sense of gripping wonderment to the show and aid in the scene transitions.

A quibble, amidst this solid community theater production, is the all-white set design from director Michael Replogle. The latticed wall, wicker furniture, double-paned window, and stand-alone door are monochromatic; they facilitate but do not enhance nor aid in the development of this story. It would have been wonderful (and not cost-prohibitive), for example, to see actual mathematical proofs as a backdrop on stage.

Altogether, MCP’s Proof is moving because of the writing. At the end of the first act, when the proof is uncovered, Catherine says, “I didn’t find it; I wrote it.” It is a wonderfully dramatic line, which pulls you into the next act just as the lights flick on for intermission. Later in a second-act flashback, Wright’s Robert delivers a humorous moment as he tweaks Hal and says, “As he approaches completion of his dissertation, time approaches infinity.” It is a great use of language that helps explain why this show ran for over 900 performances on Broadway, and along with its Tonys (with awards for Best Play, Best Actress, and Best Direction), also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Catch Proof in its remaining performances for a thoughtful night out at the theater. You may identify with Rawls’ moving portrayal of Catherine, who believes in her own abilities, despite the questions of others. You can appreciate the warmth of Fleischer’s Hal, as he wrestles with his care for Catherine and his own analytical tendencies. It is a timeless story of love and truth.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 10-minute intermission.

Proof plays through November 12, 2023, presented by McLean Community Players. This review is from its production at the Alden Theater, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean, VA. The production moves for its final weekend of performances to The Grange (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.), 9818 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA. Tickets ($20-$25 including fees, with the lower prices available for students, seniors, McLean residents, and groups) can be purchased online.

The cast and creative team for Proof is online here.

COVID Safety: McLean Community Players follows all current local guidelines on safety requirements for COVID-19 per the CDC and local health authorities.


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