Discovering the left side of the brain at Covey Theatre

Jodi Bova-Mele as the incredibly bright and depressed Catherine in 'Proof.' Photo: Amelia Beamish Proof Who Covey Theatre Company Where Mulroy Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St., Syracuse When Through March 16 Tickets $21 Review by Josh Austin

Even for those who are more right-brained, the Covey Theatre Company’s production of Proof can still equate.

David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is not simply about dull calculations, but still, for any human being sitting in the audience, the numbers become hypnotic. In Proof, math is a hardened bliss. It’s a haunting talent that left-brained geniuses of our time must live with; and for those who are not gifted with quick math, it’s the lack of Germain-genes that seems so crippling. And, gratifying.

The play harshly sets math on a godly pedestal. It’s verismo sliced thin, not shedding blood, but paralyzing brilliance. For these characters, math is beautiful—a thrilling, harsh way of life. All of this math speak is not to say that show lingers on succumbing to algebraic expression or geometric distribution, there is actually, hardly any geek-lingo in the verse. But when there is, it’s an exotic foreign language.

One of the many delights about a play like Proof is that it moves with an abstract self-consciousness. It’s an affecting thriller, where one character is dead and another seemingly staggers closer to the edge.

The play is set in Chicago right after the death of the famed mathematician Robert (Edward Mastin). His daughter and caretaker of five years Catherine (Jodi Bova-Mele) is increasingly insipid and defeated. Robert died in his 50s of mental illness. Catherine, who is beautiful, inherited her father’s gift, and some traits of his disease.

Played by Mary-Louise Parker on Broadway and Gwyneth Paltrow in the film, Catherine is sharp, moody and a 25-year-old that has regressed to that of an angry teen, only stopping to show sings of a dimly lit mathematical inclination. “Cathy” burgeons in depression with a nagging sister, Claire (Shannon Tompkins), and an inexhaustible protégé of her father’s, Hal (played by a charming Nick Barbato).

The four characters, one of whom is dead, make an interesting problem—three are easily excited, and one trying to shut down. So when a brilliant proof is discovered, and Catherine pronounces that she wrote it instead of her father, it’s easy to believe the bitter character. Of course by this point, Bova-Mele has won over the audience; she could have dramatically proclaimed that two plus two equals 17, and we would have believed her. Though there are moments where the connection doesn’t feel right with Catherine, Bova-Mele retains a vivid sense of whom she is playing.

Catherine (Jodi Bova-Mele) celebrating her birthday with her father Robert (Ed Mastin). Photo: Amelia Beamish

It’s mostly Tompkins, as the trying-too-hard sister, and Mastin as the overexcited father, that fight in Catherine’s mind. The family, like some unexplainable equation in itself, gives Claire meaning. She’s the sane and stable one—the antithesis to Catherine’s irritating immobility. While Tompkins gives flair and concern, the frustration and irritation stay hidden.

And still, while the family burns, there’s the lovable, shy Hal, a professor who’s afraid he’s peaked without peaking. Hal yearns to pay homage to the late professor, rutting through endless notebooks to see if Robert had any last moments of mathematical sparks. It’s his duty to discover something, and while he searches he finds a relationship with Catherine. Barbato summons a cute nerd (but still breaks the stereotype, he is in a band, after all). He doesn’t know who he is or necessarily what he needs, but is strong enough to recognize brilliance in others.

With set design and direction by Garret Heater, the play moves on a depressing, rotting porch that always feels cold. And, aside from questionable music choices, Heater set out to accomplish what the script wants: a poignant equation, one that easily transcends the mathematical jargon and connects the left to right brainers.