BY ADINA LEVINE
Harvard Law School’s second Faculty-directed production, David Auburn’s award winning Proof, opened on Friday, November 5th under the direction of Professor Bruce Hay. With simple scenery and only four characters, the play explores the question of whether anything can ever be proven.
“I chose the play because it brings into sharp relief the problems of moral and factual ambiguity, which we as lawyers have to deal with everywhere,” commented Hay. “The moral ambiguity in the play concerns the nature of our responsibilities toward one another: Should you essentially sacrifice your own life to care for an ailing parent? What should you do when you think a loved one is mentally ill but resists treatment? When should you “take someone’s word for it” even if you don’t believe the person?”
The plot of the play radiates tension as every scene holds a secret that is withheld until the final moments. Jonathan Jenkins plays Robert, the brilliant mathematician who revolutionizes the field before succumbing to schitzophrenia. His daughter Catharine, played by Dana Frantz, is also mathematically-inclined, dropping out of school to care for her father while fearing that she has inherited his insanity along with his genius. Her overbearing sister Claire is played by Sarah Bolling and her father’s protégé Harold “Hal” Dobbs is played by Taylor Dasher. Both characters reinforce her fears when they refuse to believe that she has authored the mathematical proof discovered in her father’s attic.
“In a sense, the title of the play is ironic: “proof” may be possible in the world of mathematics, but it’s often not achievable in the realm of human affairs,” asserted Hay. “If you read between the lines, I think the play is saying that “proving” something in human affairs frequently involves a simple leap of faith.”
The cast of four includes two law school students, Bolling and Dasher, as well as Frantz from the School of Education and Jenkins who works for a local investment firm. Auditions were held through the law school, as well as the “Common Casting” process run by the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Society, in which the producers of all the plays on campus hold simultaneous auditions for anyone interested in acting on campus.
“From an organizational point of view, it was easier than The Crucible, just because the cast is so much smaller,” Hay stated. “But the same amount of work went into getting the right nuances in the actors’ performances. It’s like the difference between doing a symphony and a string quartet; the latter involves smaller numbers but is probably just as hard to get right.”
This is Hay’s second play, having directed The Crucible last year. Hay currently also teaches a seminar on Law and Drama.
“I did [The Crucible] on sort of a lark, but as we worked on it I decided that it might add a nice dimension to the life of the school to periodically do plays that touch on the moral and intellectual problems we think about at HLS,” commented Hay.
As a law school production, it is ironic that the play centers around a mathematical proof – although the audience does not need to be proficient in math in order to understand the dialogue. Hay, however, believes that there are similarities between the profession of law and the play’s moral message.
“Even though the play has nothing to do with lawyers or legal proceedings, it forces us to think about something of profound importance to lawyers – the pervasive, irreducible moral and factual uncertainty of the world we live in,” asserted Hays. “That’s what really drew me to the play. And in my production, I try to emphasize the theme of ambiguity to the very end. Some productions of the play, I think, try to tie up all the loose ends. But I refuse to do that.”
After its initial runs, audience reviews seem to be overtly positive.
“Proof is incredibly well written – one of my favorite plays – but it is difficult to perform because it depends heavily upon character development and spare, meaningful dialogue,” commented Natalie Orr, Harvard junior. “This cast did a wonderful job of inhabiting their roles and mastering the silences in the play – I felt totally immersed in their world.”