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Juniors Dylan Strehle, Judy Moreno, and Jessica Mac­Farlane star in “Proof.” Elena Creed | Courtesy

Jonathan Gregg, lec­turer in math, gave the Tower Players’ cast of “Proof” each a sheet of paper with a rec­tangle and a tri­angle in the center of it about a month before the play’s opening night, next Wednesday in Markle Audi­torium.

“Do math,” Gregg told the group.

It turned out about as well as you would expect from a bunch of human­ities majors: “I had no idea what was going on,” said junior Judy Moreno, who plays leading lady Catherine. “I didn’t feel any spark of cre­ative genius. It was, ‘Oh my gosh, which random math facts from my childhood can I draw up?’”

Audience members of Hillsdale College’s pro­duction of “Proof” next week will not need to know the jus­ti­fi­cation for the param­e­trization of Pythagorean triples that Gregg went on to explain to the cast. Having an under­standing of the cre­ative process that goes into math­e­matics, however, may help people under­stand the themes of genius and insanity that are central to the play’s plot.

“Proof” by David Auburn won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2001. It centers on what 25-year-old Catherine will do now that her math­e­matics genius of a father, Robert (senior Nikolai Dignoti), has died after she took care of him for years as his mental health declined. Her New York City sophis­ticate sister Claire (junior Jessica Mac­Farlane) and Robert’s protégé, Hal (junior Dylan Strehle), con­tribute to Catherine’s self-eval­u­ation of her own mental state.

“There are things Catherine is going through that you as college stu­dents are dealing with, from being smart, being quirky, from having family members who are ill, maybe dealing with some mental illness, anxiety, depression,” said Michael Beyer, “Proof” director and college lighting and pro­duction manager.

Moreno said for that reason, she felt con­nected to Catherine imme­di­ately, despite the com­plexity of her char­acter and the elusive nature of the math­e­matical world in which she grew up.

“She feels like someone you know or someone you’ve been or someone you’re afraid to be at times,” Moreno said.

She said she also has found ways to asso­ciate with Catherine’s more ana­lytical nature, as well, as Gregg helped her and her cast­mates dis­cover the cre­ativity that goes into math­e­matics.

“The majority of what we’re taught in school is not math­e­matics,” Beyer said. “It’s the result of math­e­matics. When you’re taught two plus two equals four, that’s not math; that’s fact. The math­e­matics was what it took to find that two plus two equals four. It’s equal parts cre­ativity and science.”

These are the first major roles that Moreno and Mac­Farlane are taking, cre­ating a broad range of expe­rience amongst the four cast members. Dignoti’s per­for­mance is his senior project.

Mac­Farlane said the dia­logue has espe­cially been chal­lenging, since Auburn pur­pose­fully used uneven speech in a new-realism approach that projects the themes of insta­bility into the char­acters’ con­ver­sa­tions.

“It’s not like Shake­speare where the ideas connect, and it’s in iambic pen­tameter,” Mac­Farlane said. “With this, it’s a lot of short sen­tences, and it’s meant to be awkward with awkward pauses. It’s a lot harder to mem­orize, because it’s not sequential.”

The play’s math­e­matical themes will also be visually present on stage. Donald Fox’s downtown Chicago street set will feature sym­metry and par­allel lines. Dif­ferent shapes will make up window glasses, the porch table will be hexagonal, and flowers will spring from cir­cular pots.

Those will help to fill space on the large stage, a chal­lenge Beyer said he is facing with only four actors. A small cast, however, has created close-knit dynamic and is helpful for a short rehearsal time period — four-and-a-half weeks.

“Proof” plays at 8 p.m. from Nov. 15 – 18 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 18, which will have a dis­cussion led by the math­e­matics department fol­lowing it. Before the Nov. 16 show, Gregg will give a lecture explaining some of the math­e­matical con­cepts dis­cussed.

“The task of a math­e­matician is sig­nif­i­cantly more cre­ative than you think,” Gregg said. “I want to give that expe­rience of what it means to be a math­e­matician.”

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Breana Noble
Breana Noble is The Collegian's Editor-in-Chief. She is a born and raised Michigander and studies politics and journalism. This summer, Breana interned in New York City at TheStreet, a business and finance news website. She has previously worked for The Detroit News, The American Spectator, and Newsmax Media. She eventually hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism. email: bnoble1@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @RightandNoble