Now, before the kiss, there's not much more than basic exposition: He's a geeky mathematician who studied with her (recently) deceased father; she's a would-be mathematician who dropped out of school to care for dad. He's at the funeral with cold beers in hand; she's poured into a slinky black dress that she would never pick out for herself. She's vulnerable, he's smitten, and the kiss is awkward, tender, and heartbreaking...one that won't soon be forgotten.
Neither will David Auburn's light but smart new play. Anything that brings Mary-Louise Parker back to the theater must be a good thing (although how far away was she in her last TV movie, Cupid & Cate, co-starring Bebe Neuwirth, Philip Bosco, Rebecca Luker, and Peter Gallagher?). Proof begins a bit choppily, smelling an awful lot like an episode of the NBC sob-fest Providence: Cathy (Parker) is chatting and sparring with her dead father (Larry Bryggman, looking more and more like John Cullum every day). She's 25--yes, Parker can still play 25--and in her prime, but she's stuck. She's worried she's going to lose her marbles like her genius pop. And her angst isn't helped by a grad student named Hal (Shenkman), who's rifling through reams her father's old notebooks in hopes of unearthing some buried mathematical treasure. He's also searching for some affection from Cathy.
On hand to stir up trouble is her blow-dried blonde sister Claire (an appropriately icy Johanna Day), who blows in from New York with plenty of opinions, misconceptions, and the aforementioned black dress. Crepe-and-silk-clad Claire clashes, predictably, with boho chic Cathy; Claire wants to whisk the girl off to New York where she'll have a cute apartment and access to Park Avenue shrinks. But Hal and Cathy make it--with the help of Auburn's deliciously audacious pick-up line, "So, Hal, what do you do for sex?". And Dad pops in and out when background is necessary. Like when Cathy gives Hal the key to a drawer containing a notebook with a revolutionary mathematical proof. Dad must have written it in one of his rare moments of lucidity. She says she wrote it. Naturally, no one believes her.
Part character study, part family drama, and part love story, Proof is a terrifically engaging, if ever-so-slightly-contrived drama. Auburn incorporates the oft-used--and oft-misused--flashback device expertly: In a nod (coincidental or not, I wonder) to Richard Greenberg's little-known gem Three Days of Rain (also produced at MTC), a date and a notebook provide an important thread. He also makes excellent use of the mathematical theme--more as a framework than actual subject matter (Copenhagen this ain't). And Parker and Bryggman move effortlessly through the years, even if their characters are a bit sketchily drawn.