Lovers of serious theater will have a chance to see one of the decade's best, when the Hat Trick Theatre troupe of Tampa brings the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama Proof to the Eleanor Dempsey Performing Arts Center.
It plays weekends Jan. 14-30, with a special "industry night" Jan. 24.
In the play by David Auburn, 25-year-old Catherine (Emily Belvo) is sitting on her rather rundown back porch in Chicago in either a dreamy or deluded talk with her father, Robert (Ian Beck), and wondering whether she has inherited her father's mental instability and/or his mathematical genius.
Soon, it becomes evident that Robert has recently died, which has brought Catherine to a turning point.
Until now, her life has been devoted to her father, a former University of Chicago math professor whose career was brought to an early end because of his mental illness. She took care of him while her no-nonsense sister, Claire (Lani Winskye), built a Wall Street career that allows her to financially support her sister and father.
Soon, 28-year-old Hal (Thom McColgan), one of her father's former graduate students, arrives to go through Robert's papers to see if there's anything of mathematical importance. It's unclear whether he hopes to honor Robert's memory or whether he intends to use what he finds to pump up his own fledgling career.
Catherine and Hal are attracted to each other, and she offers Hal the key to a locked drawer in her late father's office. It's there that Hal finds a notebook with a mathematical proof that would revolutionize the understanding of prime numbers. As he leaves, the notebook falls from his pocket. Catherine accuses him of theft and calls the police.
From there, the question of who formulated the proof becomes a background for the questions surrounding the relationships of Catherine, Claire, Hal and the late Robert. Should Catherine and Claire sell the family home and go to New York? Claire says there are doctors there who can "help" Catherine — but does Catherine really need help?
Will the discovery of the proof rekindle Hal's devotion to pure math, or will he drift through life teaching undergraduates and playing in a quirky rock band that is usually the last act of the night after the more popular bands have gone home?
Throughout the ensuing arguments, Robert reappears to engage Catherine in math talk, apparently to keep from engaging emotionally, while Hal wants to connect with Catherine on a more physical level.
Proof is the kind of play that encourages post-play talks that are as multifaceted as higher math itself.