Young Londoners: Proof is for you

David Auburn’s Proof, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for best play, is now running at the Grand. It premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000 and then moved to Broadway, where it ran for over two years, just closing last month.

In Proof, a brilliant mathematician and his daughter share a love of mathematics. He has suffered from a mental disorder in his later years, and she is worried that she will experience the same fate.

I’m picking up a theme in the past few shows of the Grand’s season on the main stage — Proof, Schippel the Plumber and The Wizard of Oz all all explore the expanding of mental frontiers — the frontiers of mathematics, music, sanity and the known world. Lots of mental expansion going on at the Grand these days.

Proof is one of two productions from this season that was directed by the Grand’s Artistic Director, Susan Ferley (the other was Blithe Spirit). It is a recent play, written by a young playwright, and Ms. Ferley is hoping that younger people in and around London will take it in.

I asked her a couple of questions about Proof:

JC: How did you design this season, and how does Proof fit into that design?

SF: As a regional theatre, I strive to ensure that our audience has an opportunity to see a range of plays — from different times and telling the stories in a range of ways and styles. Proof would fall into the contemporary category.

I am also striving to engage a younger audience. We have a wonderful audience that has supported the theatre for many years. Many of them are very theatre savvy. However, I am not sure we have continued to renew a younger audience. The themes like parents and children, aging parents and family relationships will appeal to our older audience, but the play is the work of a younger writer. “The voice” of the play reflects the voice of a younger writer. It will be resonant for 20-somethings.

JC: The phrase “a beautiful mind” was used in the promotion. How does Proof relate to the movie of that name?

SF: Auburn wanted to write a play grounded in character. He started with two specific ideas. He envisioned a scene between sisters fighting over a legacy left by a parent. He also wanted to write a play which dealt with mental illness. When he decided to make the legacy a mathematical proof, he realized there was a link to mental illness. He was aware of that some well-known mathematicians (Kurt Godel and John Nash) had suffered from mental illness. John Nash is the subject of the biography and movie — A Beautiful Mind. Some of the math mentioned in the play and attached to the character of the father is similar to some of Nash’s work.

The mathematics and the mathematical proof provides the metaphor for the play. The play is about family, love and trust.

Proof runs at the Grand until February 23rd. (672-8800)