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Proof: A Play Paperback – March 5, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Twenty-five-year-old Catherine, who sacrificed college to care for her mentally ill father (once a brilliant, much-admired mathematician), is left in a kind of limbo after his death. Socially awkward and a bit of a shut-in, she is gruff with Hal, a former student who shows up even before the funeral wanting to root through the countless notebooks her father kept in the years of his decline, hoping to find mathematical gold. On the heels of his arrival comes Claire, Catherine's cosmopolitan, blandly successful, and pushy sister, with plans to sell their father's house and take Catherine (whom she's convinced has inherited a touch of their father's illness) with her back to New York. Catherine does not want to leave, and things become more complicated as she and Hal tentatively begin to develop a relationship. She gives him the key to a drawer in her father's desk, where the "gold" waits-in the form of a notebook filled with the most original and astonishing mathematical proof Hal has seen in years. Thrilled, he wants to take immediate steps to have the proof published in her father's name, until Catherine shocks both him and Claire by declaring that she is its author. Hal's harsh incredulity pushes Catherine into an indifferent funk, sorely disappointed by the insult of having to prove her honesty to a friend she had trusted. There is much to appeal to YAs in this Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, which crackles with subtle wit while tackling large questions.

Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

After the death of her mathematical genius father, Catherine, who gave up her own study of mathematics to tend to him, claims that she is the author of a mathematical proof found in the attic among his unpublished, mostly incoherent notebooks by Hal, one of his former students. But what "proof" does Catherine have that she, and not her father, is the author? Her older sister, home to attend the funeral, doubts her claim and, in fact, doubts Catherine's own sanity. Hal, who has professional ambitions of his own, isn't exactly disinterested and may not be trustworthy; his sleeping with Catherine has also complicated the issue. The elusiveness of genius in general and the difficulty of a mathematical proof in particular here become metaphors for the uncertainties of love, trust, and personal integrity. This wonderful play has already won the Kesselring Prize for Auburn, also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Proof's deft dialog, its careful structure, and the humanity of the central characters are themselves proof of a major new talent in the American theater. Strongly recommended for all drama collections. Robert W. Melton, Univ. of Kansas Libs., Lawrence
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 83 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1st edition (March 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571199976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571199976
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Auburn's plays include Skyscraper (Greenwich House Theater) and Fifth Planet (New York Stage and Film). In 2001 he received the Kesselring Prize and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on May 20, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the past few years there has been a resurgence of plays with themes centered around math and science and characters who are mathematicians and scientists. Thank heaven! Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen" is magnificent. Then there are two plays produced by the Manhattan Theater Club: "An Experiment with an Air Pump" by Shelagh Stephenson and this play, "Proof" by David Auburn. I think both are wonderful.
After winning the Pulitzer, a shot at a Tony, and a continuing run on Broadway, Auburn really has no need for my good words; however, let me give a few anyway. This is a cleverly written piece. Unlike "Copenhagen," this play really isn't about mathematicians and scientists. It is just framed around them. No math skills are necessary to enjoy this play. Instead, it is an examination of love, trust, madness and genius presented through the lives of mathematicians.
In fact, the only weakness in this play is when real mathematics comes up. I cringed when I heard the famous exchange between mathematicians G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan put in the mouth of Robert and Catherine, the father/daughter mathematicians at the heart of this play. It just rubbed me the wrong way.
Fortunately, this is the only time math actually comes up. Instead, this play takes us into the lives of four very interesting people. I was fortunate enough to see a performance of this play on its second night on Broadway. I was incredibly moved. Mary-Louise Parker's performance as Catherine was particularly impressive. Reading the script, I was carried right back to the theater and could relive the experience again. I loved it.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Not since David Hirson's brilliant La Bete and Wrong Mountain has Broadway seen a more exciting play than Proof! I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates theatre that is as challenging as it is entertaining. I sent many friends to see the original production, and none was disappointed.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ambergold on August 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
Proof, by David Auburn, is a compelling and tautly beautiful play, ringing with a quiet elegance. Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, I was introduced to it through the 2005 movie, which now having read the play I realize was an extremely good adaptation, as well as a very good film in its own right. It's the story of Catherine, a brilliant but somewhat neurotic mathematics student who has lived all her life in the shadow of her famous father, a groundbreaking mathematician revered the world over. The play begins with a dialogue between Catherine and her father, in which he berates her for wasting her potential, while gradually, during the course of it, we discover that her father is insane, and has been for quite some time. He is living in semi-seclusion while Catherine looks after him. Then, as the conversation goes on, we - and Catherine - realize that her father is dead; as he calmly informs her "Heart failure. Quick. The funeral's tomorrow." From there, we are slowly sucked into a drama of at once deep intensity and lyrical lightness. Abruptly deprived of the man who, for better or worse, was the center of her existence for all her life, Catherine finds herself having to cope with life and relationships beyond her father, as Harold, a graduate student of her father's, begins going through all her father's journals to see if by some chance he wrote anything significant during his recent years of insanity. Catherine, immediately defensive and certain that her father wrote nothing but graphomaniac scribbles during the last few years, throws him out of the house.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
David Auburn, Proof (Dramatists Play Service, 2001)

I spent a good deal of my elementary and junior high school years reading plays, as I fancied myself an actor back in the day. A somewhat bad actor, to be sure, but I did manage to score the role of Reb Nahum in our fifth-grade production of Fiddler on the Roof. (Go me!) Acting in theater, however small, gave me a taste for reading plays, and it was quite enjoyable. Somewhere along the way, though, I tailed off, and it has only been recently (as in, in the past month) I've rediscovered the pleasure of reading a stage play. Proof is the second one I've encountered since starting again, and if the quality of these two is anything to go by, I've obviously been missing out on quite a bit in the quarter-century I haven't been keeping up.

Proof is the story of a guy, a girl, and a mathematical equation. Which may not sound all that interesting when put that way, but it is. The girl is the daughter of a mathematical genius who suffered, while still young, a debilitating mental illness. (Think A Beautiful Mind without the paranoia and racism.) The guy is one of his doctoral students from the recent past, when he had a lucid year and briefly advised students at the local university again. The mathematical equation-- well, you'll just have to see, or read, the play.

In a very short span of pages (seventy-four, to be precise), Auburn creates two compelling characters (and a few equally compelling minor players), puts them into a situation, and gives us enough to care about them in the most minimal fashion possible; while there's too much going on for the brevity of the play to really focus on the two of them, the reader still comes to understand much about their depth and various quirks.
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