Beginning May 1, we present PROOF by David Auburn
Winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play and the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Directed by Robert Rossman
with Emily Rossman, Tracie Nickle, Gary Richmond and Robert Rossman
Winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play and the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Directed by Robert Rossman
with Emily Rossman, Tracie Nickle, Gary Richmond and Robert Rossman

David Auburn’s PROOF is an elegant and engaging story of passion, genius, and family bonds. Catherine has inherited her father’s mathematical brilliance, but does she also share his madness? When one of his graduate students discovers a groundbreaking proof among the professor’s notebooks, Catherine must face the legacy her father has left behind.
PROOF By David Auburn Directed by Robert Rossman with Emily Rossman, Tracie Nickle, Gary Richmond, and Robert Rossman Set Design by Mike Edwards Lighting Design by Casey Burke Costume Design by Linda Maloney Tom Lehrer Helps Us Understand New Math 
On Proofs, Truth, and the Creative World of Mathematicians
proof n. a sequence of statements, each of which is either validly derived from those preceding it or is an axiom or assumption, and the final member of which, the conclusion, is the statement of which the truth is thereby established. The Harper Collins Dictionary of Mathematics
David Auburn’s dramatic impulse for what would become his Pulitzer Prizewinning play Proof initially had nothing to do with mathematics and mathematicians—indeed, the play sprung from an idea of sisters fighting over something left behind by their father and their worry over the possible inheritance of mental illness. It was the playwright’s discovery that the something left behind might be a scientific or mathematical document of questionable authorship that provided him with a bridge to connect his dramatic ideas and establish the world of the play as one inhabited largely by mathematicians.
For the mathematically uninitiated, the math phobic, or the forgetful, the definition of a mathematical proof is provided above, but to understand the significance of proofs in mathematics, one must have, according to Assaf Goldberger, “the right picture” of what mathematics actually is:
From elementary school through the first years of college, we teach people that the goal is to solve an equation or to find a minimum of a function or to find how much wheat we should grow. This is of course something that mathematics can do, but it is not what mathematics is about. Mathematics is about understanding the laws behind numbers, algebra and geometry. It is about finding new and non routine ways to look at these systems and to explain strange phenomena that we may encounter. To make it more interesting, we can even change the laws to create new systems and then study them…There is a whole new world of ideas, understanding and discovery that is invisible to people who only know how to differentiate a function. To enter this world, it is necessary to use the ideas of abstraction and mathematical proof.
Auburn’s decision to make a proof central to the telling of the story of Catherine, Claire, and Robert required his entering into the world of mathematics for a greater understanding of the profession and those professionals working in the higher realms of the field, beyond the layman’s territory of simply numeracy and arithmetic, where many, if not most, of us reside. Auburn’s understanding of this other, abstract world “was helped a lot by reading popular books and spending time with mathematicians. One of these books included a perennial favorite on the subject, G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematicians Apology, an extended essay which the British mathematician penned in 1940 that describes and endorses the profession proudly:
If intellectual curiosity, professional pride, and ambition are the dominant incentives to research, then assuredly no one has a fairer chance of gratifying them than a mathematician. His subject is the most curious of all—there is none in which truth plays such odd pranks. It has the most elaborate and most fascinating technique, and gives unrivalled openings for the display of sheer professional skill. Finally, as history proves abundantly, mathematical achievement, whatever its intrinsic worth, is the most enduring of all.
poetically:
The mathematician’s patters, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world of ugly mathematics…It may be very had to define mathematical beauty, but that is just as true of beauty of any kind—we may not know quite what we mean by a beautiful poem, but that does not prevent us from recognizing one when we read it…
and, occasionally, ironically:
The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise artcritics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation is work for secondrate minds.
The irony of the quotation above lies in the reality that the Hardy’s apologia, written at the age of 63, is an admission or confession of his own mind’s selfrelegation to secondrate status. The notion of math being a “young man’s game,” as alluded to by Hal (who is struggling a bit with his own professional status) in Proof, was an oft contemplated topic in the field both in Hardy’s day and is still greatly debated today.
What Auburn seemingly learned overall from his research of professional mathematicians—as is evidenced in the play in subtle and sincere ways—is the surprising passion and creativity that undergirds the mathematician’s work, which some in the profession characterize boldly as the search for Truth and, alternately, as a “fun,” “ infinitely rich,” and “perfect” game. And still others employ artistic or literary language to express the creative nature of what they do and its effect:
Mathematics is an incredibly creative subject. We are making a lot of choices in the sort of things we want to celebrate as theorems…there is a lot of choice in mathematics…Mathematics is about the big stories—the stories of numbers, of symmetry. These are the stories we choose to celebrate, and they have a truth about them. You can’t change them, so it feels like there are more constraints on mathematics. But still the stories we choose to tell are as exciting and have the drama, and we choose to tell those stories because they have the same affect on us as a piece of Shakespeare. (Marcus du Sautoy)
One doesn’t really need to know anything about the “big stories” of mathematics to enjoy and/or understand the small, personal tale Auburn tells in Proof. In fact, the playwright was careful about how much math he actually put in the play; he focused more on math “lore” than on the intricacies of higher mathematics—so much so that it isn’t even certain what ultimate truth the proof of the play reveals. (Auburn) Still, the play might inspire the mathematically nonconversant to want to know more about the world of mathematics and mathematicians.
The above is excepted from information about the 2013 production of PROOF by the McCarter Theatre.
David Auburn’s dramatic impulse for what would become his Pulitzer Prizewinning play Proof initially had nothing to do with mathematics and mathematicians—indeed, the play sprung from an idea of sisters fighting over something left behind by their father and their worry over the possible inheritance of mental illness. It was the playwright’s discovery that the something left behind might be a scientific or mathematical document of questionable authorship that provided him with a bridge to connect his dramatic ideas and establish the world of the play as one inhabited largely by mathematicians.
For the mathematically uninitiated, the math phobic, or the forgetful, the definition of a mathematical proof is provided above, but to understand the significance of proofs in mathematics, one must have, according to Assaf Goldberger, “the right picture” of what mathematics actually is:
From elementary school through the first years of college, we teach people that the goal is to solve an equation or to find a minimum of a function or to find how much wheat we should grow. This is of course something that mathematics can do, but it is not what mathematics is about. Mathematics is about understanding the laws behind numbers, algebra and geometry. It is about finding new and non routine ways to look at these systems and to explain strange phenomena that we may encounter. To make it more interesting, we can even change the laws to create new systems and then study them…There is a whole new world of ideas, understanding and discovery that is invisible to people who only know how to differentiate a function. To enter this world, it is necessary to use the ideas of abstraction and mathematical proof.
Auburn’s decision to make a proof central to the telling of the story of Catherine, Claire, and Robert required his entering into the world of mathematics for a greater understanding of the profession and those professionals working in the higher realms of the field, beyond the layman’s territory of simply numeracy and arithmetic, where many, if not most, of us reside. Auburn’s understanding of this other, abstract world “was helped a lot by reading popular books and spending time with mathematicians. One of these books included a perennial favorite on the subject, G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematicians Apology, an extended essay which the British mathematician penned in 1940 that describes and endorses the profession proudly:
If intellectual curiosity, professional pride, and ambition are the dominant incentives to research, then assuredly no one has a fairer chance of gratifying them than a mathematician. His subject is the most curious of all—there is none in which truth plays such odd pranks. It has the most elaborate and most fascinating technique, and gives unrivalled openings for the display of sheer professional skill. Finally, as history proves abundantly, mathematical achievement, whatever its intrinsic worth, is the most enduring of all.
poetically:
The mathematician’s patters, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world of ugly mathematics…It may be very had to define mathematical beauty, but that is just as true of beauty of any kind—we may not know quite what we mean by a beautiful poem, but that does not prevent us from recognizing one when we read it…
and, occasionally, ironically:
The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise artcritics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation is work for secondrate minds.
The irony of the quotation above lies in the reality that the Hardy’s apologia, written at the age of 63, is an admission or confession of his own mind’s selfrelegation to secondrate status. The notion of math being a “young man’s game,” as alluded to by Hal (who is struggling a bit with his own professional status) in Proof, was an oft contemplated topic in the field both in Hardy’s day and is still greatly debated today.
What Auburn seemingly learned overall from his research of professional mathematicians—as is evidenced in the play in subtle and sincere ways—is the surprising passion and creativity that undergirds the mathematician’s work, which some in the profession characterize boldly as the search for Truth and, alternately, as a “fun,” “ infinitely rich,” and “perfect” game. And still others employ artistic or literary language to express the creative nature of what they do and its effect:
Mathematics is an incredibly creative subject. We are making a lot of choices in the sort of things we want to celebrate as theorems…there is a lot of choice in mathematics…Mathematics is about the big stories—the stories of numbers, of symmetry. These are the stories we choose to celebrate, and they have a truth about them. You can’t change them, so it feels like there are more constraints on mathematics. But still the stories we choose to tell are as exciting and have the drama, and we choose to tell those stories because they have the same affect on us as a piece of Shakespeare. (Marcus du Sautoy)
One doesn’t really need to know anything about the “big stories” of mathematics to enjoy and/or understand the small, personal tale Auburn tells in Proof. In fact, the playwright was careful about how much math he actually put in the play; he focused more on math “lore” than on the intricacies of higher mathematics—so much so that it isn’t even certain what ultimate truth the proof of the play reveals. (Auburn) Still, the play might inspire the mathematically nonconversant to want to know more about the world of mathematics and mathematicians.
The above is excepted from information about the 2013 production of PROOF by the McCarter Theatre.
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