The word "proof" has dozens of meanings, from alcoholic content to the first impressions of print, photography and engraving. David Auburn's 2000 drama, now on stage at South Park Theatre, focuses on the mathematical meaning of the term, with its evidentiary connotation as a major theme.
But Proof, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer, Tony, et al best-play awards, also amply draws on many of those corollary meanings. And South Park set designer Sara Baines-Miller expands on the idea by dressing the stage with a full-scale mock-up of a computer-assisted blueprint.
Don't worry; little actual math is inflicted upon the audience. The story is complicated enough, centering on the life, potential and the mental stability of a young woman, Catherine, after several years of caring for her father, who had been both intellectually brilliant and insane. (No exact diagnosis is offered, but there are patterns of obsessiveness, paranoia, etc.) The play is set in the days immediately after his death, plus flashbacks -- or maybe they're just in her mind? How much does she take after her genius but deranged parent?
That's her main worry, but she has others: the lack of trust, both ways, in a budding relationship with a male academic; and her domineering sister, who swoops in from out of town. And for comic relief, there are the off-stage drunken nerds partying after the funeral -- one of the most accurate depictions of scientists in popular literature.
In the central role, Allison Wagner valiantly wrestles with doubt, yet delicately hints at hopefulness and Catherine's capacity for love and laughter. Opposite her, Matt Davidson captures the geeky charm of a would-be mathematician and Romeo. Bill Crean manages a Father-Knows-Best stature even when his character is obviously bonkers. Allison Jaye, as the sister, is sympathetic, perhaps too much so to be credible as a know-it-all New Yawker.
Directed by Dek Ingraham, Proof is solidly realized, if a bit wobbly on opening weekend. Good sound design by Andrea Gordon, lighting by J.R. Shaw and technical direction by Kevin Kocher. I just wish the costuming had been kinder to the ladies.
Perhaps more character- than plot-driven, Proof is enjoyable as a dramatic yet romantic portrait. Or you can plumb it as deep as you want to go for meanings and nuances. There's lots of potential.
Proof continues through July 17. South Park Theatre, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com