Math, sex, and historic proofs

Last weekend, Scotch ’n’ Soda put on a show for the ages, performing David Auburn’s Proof a total of three times. Directing duties were handled by sophomore music composition major Scott Wasserman, who has performed in over 30 plays and musicals in his career and was the assistant director on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) last semester. Wasserman was assisted by first-year business major Stephen Chan.

“It was unique directing a show that I previously had no contact with, as far as seeing the film or watching the play,” said Wasserman.

“This was my first directing experience and it’s been a privilege working with Scott and the amazing cast,” said Chan. “I’m a freshman, but [the actors] listen to my opinions and that’s really amazing. It was really fun to work the crew, too.”

Proof is a humorous yet dramatic play that focuses on four central characters: Catherine, Hal, Claire, and Robert. Catherine, played by Scotch ’n’ Soda vice president and sophomore BHA student Shannon Deep, is the 25-year-old daughter of Robert, a recently deceased mathematical genius, who is played (as a ghost and in flashbacks) by senior computer science major Dan Tasse. Scotch ’n’ Soda president and junior economics major Alex DiClaudio plays Hal, an eager former student of Robert’s who is on the “downside” of his mathematics career at the age of 28. Sophomore materials science and engineering major Sharon Wang, in her first Scotch ‘n’ Soda performance, rounds out the cast as Claire. The antithesis of her sister Catherine, Claire is a proper and slightly neurotic New Yorker who flies in to attend her father’s funeral and settle some affairs.

The play opens on Catherine’s 25th birthday, about a week following her father’s death, with Catherine having a conversation with her father. We learn quickly that Robert had some sort of mental illness in the years leading up to his death and that Catherine dropped out of college in order to take care of him. We then meet Hal, a professor at the University of Chicago, who is trying to find something other than nonsense in Robert’s old notebooks. Catherine and Hal’s first interaction, which becomes their first argument, gives us a good look into the personalities of each. Catherine is a troubled girl who doesn’t want to discuss her genius father and prefers to let his memory rest; the bulk of her life was spent (but not wasted, as we later learn) taking care of him. Hal is an enthusiastic young man, but struggling in his own research, who refuses to believe his late mentor completely lost his mind due to his mental illness.

Hal’s eagerness is shown throughout the first act as he tries to woo the initially unwilling Catherine during Robert’s wake, which turns into an all-night party. They eventually fall for each other during a conversation about mathematics after a hilarious “experimentation” joke about mathematicians and their sexual exploits while at conferences — probably the funniest line in what was really quite a hilarious play. After sleeping with Hal, Catherine decides to trust him with a notebook containing a groundbreaking proof, and the first act comes to a close following the shocking admission from Catherine that she wrote it.

The second act, which is much more somber than the first, centers around the historic proof, and how there is no “proof” (i.e., evidence) of whether the actual author is Catherine or her father. Catherine vehemently claims she wrote it, but Claire and Hal have serious doubts, leading to a rant by Catherine that would make any man turn to jelly. Hal storms off and Catherine breaks down and isn’t seen again, except for a flashback, until the end of the play. Hal and Catherine appear to reconcile when he returns to claim the proof indeed was likely written by Catherine. The play ends with the two sitting side-by-side going over some of the more complicated portions of the proof.

Scotch ’n’ Soda’s acting was stellar for the most part, if not a bit stale in some of the earlier one-on-one scenes involving Catherine and Hal or Catherine and Robert. But the play definitely hit the ground running following Hal and Catherine’s first argument. The actors did an excellent job of letting their own emotions seep into the audience, leaving a very authentic feeling of each sensation expressed. Each gets a personal rant to let his or her sentiments be known, coming through with a rage that reverberates around the room.

Extra honor must be extolled upon Deep for her convincing portrayal of Catherine, whose profound fear of loneliness after so many years spent mostly alone is saddening; eventually, her character is able to pull through due to her individual strength.

“It was my first dramatic lead and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve been involved in every Scotch ’n’ Soda performance [since I’ve been at Carnegie Mellon] except for one and this was my favorite. I really enjoyed getting to know and work with the cast and crew and I think we became real good friends at the end.”

Praise must also be given to the choice of music during scene changes. It set the mood perfectly for upcoming scenes. What also may be lost after the play’s somber conclusion was how genuinely funny it was. Perfect timing coinciding with some well-placed awkward moments greatly improved the play. Overall, Proof is a highly original and expertly directed and acted play that was an absolute joy to watch.