Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Proof

Go To

A play by David Auburn, first produced in 2000. It won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play. Mary-Louise Parker won a Tony for Best Actress for her portrayal of Catherine.

Catherine is the daughter of a brilliant but mentally ill mathematician, Robert, and has acted as his caretaker up until his recent death, putting off her own education to do so. Now in the wake of his death she has to deal with her well-meaning but frustrating older sister Claire, Robert's former grad student Hal's discovery of a paradigm-shifting proof he attributes to Robert despite Catherine's insistence that she wrote it, and with the ghost of her father's genius and insanity, and how much of each she has inherited.


Was made into a film in 2005. The film starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, Anthony Hopkins as Robert, Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal and Hope Davis as Claire.

Not related to the TV series of the same name (despite coincidentally having a similarly named heroine), or the comic book of the same name.

Tropes featured include:

  • Black Sheep: Claire. She doesn't share her father and sister's genius, nor, as a result, their bond.
  • Broken Bird: Catherine has a lot of emotional baggage. A lot.
  • The Caretaker: Catherine, to her father, and later Claire to Catherine for a short period.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: A heartbreaking example, Robert's writings in the scene in which Catherine discovers he's relapsed.
  • Cool Old Guy: Robert, when he's coherent.
  • Cool Teacher: Before his illness Robert was a professor, and well loved by his students.
  • Advertisement:
  • Dead All Along The play opens with a conversation between Catherine and Robert, until Catherine remembers that wait a second, Robert's dead. Makes his reassurance that she's not crazy ring kind of hollow.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Opening scene between Catherine and Robert
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Catherine goes through a bit of this in the first act, going from angry and sullen to actually trusting Hal enough to show him the proof.
  • The Dutiful Son: Played with; both sisters invoke it on the other. Catherine stays home to care for her father and resents her older sister Claire for going to college and living her life in New York. But Claire is the more practical and stable one, and points out that she made a great deal of sacrifices in order to be able financially support her father and sister.
  • Advertisement:
  • Experimented in College: Hal says there's "a lot of experimentation" at math conferences because there are so few women.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Hal and Catherine's first kiss is while they are discussing mathematicians.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Catherine and Claire to minor extent, but it isn't played up very much. Both are very smart and both are attractive but Claire plays up her looks more while Catherine has a natural genius. As a result they fill the roles of the pretty and the smart sister, respectively.
  • Good with Numbers: Applies to all four characters, though Claire explicitly says that she's always been good with numbers, but doesn't come close to her father's (or her sister's) genius.
  • It Runs in the Family: Catherine - and her sister - worry the Robert's mathematical genius isn't the only thing Catherine inherited from him.
  • Mad Mathematician: Robert has schizophrenia, as seen in the flashback scenes, and his work devolves into bizarre ramblings (see below). Possibly Catherine.
  • Madness Mantra: Robert's writings degrade into this.
    "Let X equal the quantity of all quantities of X. Let X equal the cold. It is cold in December. The months of cold equal November through February. There are four months of cold, and four of heat, leaving four months of indeterminate temperature. In February it snows. In March the Lake is a lake of ice. In September the students come back and the bookstores are full. Let X equal the month of full bookstores. The number of books approaches infinity as the number of months of cold approaches four. I will never be as cold now as I will in the future. The future of cold is infinite. The future of heat is the future of cold. The bookstores are infinite and so are never full except in September..."
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end of the play it seems that Catherine has forgiven Hal, as she's discussing the proof with him, but the nature of their future relationship is left open ended.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The opening scene where Catherine talks to her (dead) father. Maybe she's losing it, or maybe she was just dozing off, or maybe it was ghost (generally thought to be one of the first two).
  • The Mentally Disturbed: Robert
  • Missing Mom: The mom gets barely a passing mention, having died years before the action of the play.