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Theatre / Proof

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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:

  • Always Second Best: Hal is self-conscious about his abilities as a mathematician, especially after his papers keep being turned down. He fears that he, or any of his generation, will never be as good as Robert was, which causes him to doubt that Catherine could have conceived of the proof herself.
  • Age Lift: The characters' ages were changed in the 2005 film, likely to better equate with those of their actors. Catherine, played by 33-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow, turns 27 instead of 25; and Robert, played by 67-year-old Anthony Hopkins, dies at 63 instead of his fifties. This is inverted with Hal who is 26 in the film instead of 28, also likely due to being played by 25-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal.
  • Black Sheep: Claire. She doesn't share her father and sister's genius, nor, as a result, their bond.
  • Bowdlerise: Zig-Zagged with the 2005 film adaptation. Most of the f-bombs in the script are removed to maintain a PG-13 rating, but it does briefly show Hal and Claire having sex, which happened between scenes and was only alluded to in the play.
  • Broken Bird: Catherine has a lot of emotional baggage due to dealing with her father's illness and subsequent death.
  • The Caretaker: Catherine, to her father, and later Claire to Catherine for a short period.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: During the party on the night after Robert's funeral, Claire attempts to "keep up" with the physicists and fails miserably, with a massive hangover the following morning to boot.
    Claire: I thought they'd stop. They didn't. Oh God.
  • 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.
  • 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: The opening scene between Catherine and Robert is revealed to be entirely in Catherine's head, either as a dream or hallucination, as Robert is revealed to be already dead.
  • 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.
  • 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 begin making out as while they are discussing mathematicians, which leads to Their First Time between scenes.
  • 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.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Hal talks about how he's driving to see a band composed of members of the math department and Catherine refers to them "nerds in a band."
    Catherine: Long drive to see some nerds in a band.
    Hal: God I hate when people say that. It is not that long a drive.
  • It Runs in the Family: Catherine - and her sister - worry the Robert's mathematical genius isn't the only thing Catherine inherited from him.
  • Like Parent, Like Child: Claire alludes to how Catherine has some of her father's talent "and some of his talent towards... instability." Depending on interpretation, Catherine may even be inheriting some of those same schizophrenic symptoms as she converses with Robert in her imagination.
  • Mad Mathematician: Robert has schizophrenia, as seen in the flashback scenes, and his work devolves into bizarre ramblings (see below). Catherine may have inherited this trait.
  • 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 spends a large portion of his life suffering from schizophrenia, which kept him from practicing save for less than a year of remission, where he mentored Hal.
  • Missing Mom: Both Catherine and Hal's mothers are deceased, which causing them both significant mental grief, especially with Catherine having to assume her mother's role as Robert's caretaker.
  • Posthumous Character: Robert is dead before the events of the play, performing as figments of Catherine's imagination and in flashbacks.
  • The Public Domain Channel: Robert watches Night of the Living Dead (1968).
  • Second-Act Breakup: Though the romance isn't the main focus of the play, it pretty much follows this. After finally starting to trust Hal, that all goes away when he doesn't believe her about the proof. By the end of the play she's tentatively forgiven him and we're left with a Maybe Ever After.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Catherine in the dress Claire buys her.
  • Your Mom: After the end of the first scene, she supposedly has a drunken confrontation with police after she called 911 on Hal, thinking he was about to steal one of Robert's notebooks, and reportedly told "one cop... to go fuck the other cop's mother". Catherine denies this to Claire and says, "Not with that phrasing." Catherine's response has an added layer of humor in the film, where Claire says she merely told her to "have sex with the other cop's mother."