The essence of David Auburn’s play is all in its name — “Proof.”
Because the play deals with intellectual brilliance — particularly as it relates to mathematics — the most obvious meaning of “Proof” is literally a scientific proof or theorem. But on the more personal level, it’s also about people looking for proof of other things, such as trust and love.
The play’s primary character, Catherine, has a lot to sort out. She and her father Robert are alike in many ways, leaving her to worry whether she’ll inherit his genius for math, his mental instability or both. Her polar-opposite sister Claire looks for proof that Catherine might be crazy. Catherine herself looks to others for proof that she’s not.
Auburn’s “Proof” has been recognized as a masterful contemporary drama, earning the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.
The cast of four includes two Colorado Mountain College theater students: Cora Wettlin and David Collier. Wettlin takes center stage in the role of Catherine. She was last on stage as Mary in CMC Theatre’s production of William Gibson’s unconventional pageant, “The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree.” She’ll earn her theater degree at the end of 2014.
Collier plays Hal, a protégé of Catherine’s father. Collier was cast in last fall’s production of “Amadeus,” which was recently reprised at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House. He’ll earn his theater degree this May.
Rounding out the cast are CMC theater graduate Cassidy Willey in the role of Claire and former CMC Theatre program director and professor G. Thomas Cochran in the role of Robert. They are directed by Brad Moore.
When does x equal y?
“Proof” lends itself to a few quirky math-isms that you might appreciate if math is one of your strong suits — for example, the “i” song that Hal’s band performs, where “i” stands for “imaginary number” and the song is three minutes of silence.
It’s by no coincidence that the playwright bestowed his characters with mathematical intelligence; it sets up the play’s fundamental contradiction.
“The idea of being able to prove anything is fascinating,” says Cochran. That becomes especially tricky when it’s not a clear-cut math problem in question, but a human’s perspective.
“Proof” portrays how situations can be understood in very different ways by different people.
Director Moore explains how each character thinks to himself or herself, “I understand it this way and so should you; it’s so obvious to me.” He says, “It’s a very normal, very natural thing to expect people to side with you, agree with you.” And when that doesn’t happen, “it leads to a sense of betrayal.”
And it’s that betrayal that is so difficult for Catherine to reconcile. Wettlin explains, “She doesn’t know if she’s overanalyzing or if she’s actually losing her mind.”
Young actress feels the chemistry
Playing the part of Catherine has been a journey of discovery for Wettlin. She says she and her fellow actors are continually finding in the script the subtle connections that Catherine makes. “We say to each other, ‘She’s saying this because of that.’ She can take something another character said and pull it into another conversation later,” Wettlin says.
“She has a real intellect — I’ve thought how great it would be to have that trait,” says Wettlin. But it’s also a pitfall, as she explains: “All of us say things without thinking, but Catherine remembers it — she vividly remembers the way it was said, but she twists it around or reads into it too much.”
The actress and the character do share commonalities. “In as many ways as I differ from her, there are ways I feel akin to her,” says Wettlin. She describes herself as a little bit of a loner, like Catherine, and, she says, “I’m not a genius by any stretch, but I am fascinated with math.”
The two also hold differing ideas from their parents on the proper formula for success. For Wettlin, the key is maybe not in the math, but in the chemistry: in acting, she found something she loves and can be successful with and, from the moment she read the script and auditioned for it, the role struck a resonating chord with her.
Wettlin was elated when she found out she was chosen for the part. “I love this play, and I had to be a part of it.”
The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15, with 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 9 and 16 in the New Space Theatre at Colorado Mountain College in Spring Valley. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, staff and faculty and can be reserved at firstname.lastname@example.org or 947-8177, or purchased with cash or check at the door.
Additionally, for those wishing to more deeply explore the line between genius and madness in “Proof,” we will hold a short pre-performance dramaturgy. The dramaturgical talk will take place at 7 p.m. prior to evening performances and at 1:30 p.m. prior to matinees. It will be led by either Gary Ketzenbarger, associate professor of speech and theater, or Christie Smith, associate professor of communications and humanities.