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Review: Everyman Theatre’s “Proof” finds mathematical elegance

There is a black composition notebook in a locked drawer in Catherine’s father’s study and located within its pages is a secret she has been hiding for years.

A mathematical proof.

More importantly, a new proof, something that will change the course of mathematics forever — but disregard the details. In David Auburn’s play “Proof,” running at Everyman Theatre, the actual math does not matter, but the people it brings together certainly do.

Directed by Baltimore native Paige Hernandez, “Proof” tells the story of Catherine, a 25-year-old woman struggling to come to terms with her genius mathematician father’s death. Catherine, played by Katie Kleiger, has inherited her own mathematical ability from her father, Robert, and wonders if she will face the same illness that made him go “bughouse” (as he puts it) towards the end of his life.

Robert, played by Bruce Randolph Nelson, leaves behind hundreds and hundreds of black composition notebooks upon his death, chronicling the work he did through the lucid and not-so-lucid moments leading up to his death. One of Robert’s former students, Hal, played by Jeremy Keith Hunter, takes it upon himself to search through these books to see if he can find any glimpses of genius — and a way into Catherine’s heart.

Catherine, however, is preoccupied with her own black composition notebook located in her father’s study— one that holds a proof she has been working on for years. When she allows Hal to find it, he does not believe she wrote it, sparking a conversation about how women are recognized — or not — for their contributions to male-dominated fields.

Complicating the emotional landscape even more is Catherine’s older sister Claire, played by Megan Anderson, who wants Catherine to move with her to New York. Concerned that Catherine has missed out on normal early adulthood, Claire encourages Catherine to go back to school and maybe even see a specialist to help her work through the years she lost taking care of her ailing father.

Anderson starred as Catherine in Everyman Theatre’s 2003 production of “Proof” in what the theatre calls her “breakout role,” but she slides seamlessly into the character of the older sister. Kleiger and Anderson have great onstage chemistry, and their exchanges take on the exasperated tone of two siblings who have known each other forever and know the other will not change.

We never get to hear the proof that everyone is so enamored with, and we do not even really get an explanation as to why it is so revolutionary. But in a play in which every character has their own personal motivations and beliefs, it hardly matters. “Proof” is not about the math. It is about the people.

“Proof” is running through Oct. 6 at the Everyman Theatre. Everyman features a $10 student rush for B location seating 30 minutes before every scheduled performance and is offered to those with a valid student ID. Additionally, all Sunday evening performances are $10 for students in B location seating with a valid ID. Full price tickets can be purchased for $43-$52.

Photo credit: Catherine (Katie Kleiger, left) sits opposite her father, Robert (Bruce Randolph Nelson, right), on their back porch. Photo by DJ Corey Photography and courtesy of Everyman Theatre.