This is my review of Proof by David Auburn.
Although professional critics have marked this play down as shallow, I found it absorbing and moving – likely to prove challenging and rewarding for both the four actors involved and their audiences.
Clearly influenced by the at times tortured life of the mathematician John Nash whose intriguing blend of madness and genius has been portrayed in the probably better known "A Beautiful Mind", "Proof" focuses more on the effects of mental instability on other family members. Although mathematics lies at the heart of this play, we are never given a specific theory or real analysis but this does not matter since, apart from the fact it would be incomprehensible to most of the audience, the details are not the point.
The strength of this play is that you can take from it what you wish. What about the daughter who has sacrificed her own mathematical talents in order to care for her sick father? Has she inherited both his genius and his malady? Is this what helps her to empathise with him so strongly? Should we blame her pragmatic sister for going off and making a life of her own? She has at least supported the others financially, but are her good intentions unforgivably insensitive? How sincere is the young man so keen to trawl through the sick man's notes in search of some revolutionary proof? Is he motivated by a respect for academic achievement, or something more self-serving?
I suppose you could argue that to raise so many issues without providing any resolution of them is a weakness, but I would say that this play gives you a chance to understand and reflect on aspects of human behaviour and relationships which most people do not encounter, or, if one does have to deal with madness, this provides some thought-provoking, even comforting points of connection and reference. Despite a theme that may sound depressing, the dialogue is often funny and never dull while a slight plot is skilfully developed through a strong structure.