When it comes to math, where do family battles, mental illness, and ghosts of the past fit into the equation?

When it comes to math, where do family battles, mental illness, and ghosts of the past fit into the equation?


David Auburn’s play “Proof” brought them all together in his Pulitzer-prize winning play about Catherine, the daughter of Robert, a gifted but troubled mathematician who has recently died.


Throughout the play, Catherine struggles to determine whether her father’s mental illness is part of her own legacy.


Director Kevin Mark Kline said, “The audience can expect a lot of mystery and a lot of secrets. Just when you are taking the audience down one path, the play takes a turn. That is the exciting thing about it.”


The best-known incarnation is probably the 2005 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, and which differs from the original play in some ways – including elaborations of characters that are only given a passing reference.


Kline said the AFD Theatre follows the play as originally written, with a cast of four portraying the principal characters and an emphasis on a naturalistic setting.


“The entire stage is covered with thousands of leaves … it’s about the seasons changing. For the protagonist, there is a lot of change going on in her life,” Kline said. “She is kind of stuck in this place, and nothing quite says that better than fall and leaves changing – that time between the summer sun and before the cold enters.”


Kline credited the play’s set design team for the realistic look of the set, including a back porch of a modern-day Chicago home where most of the plot unfolds.


In the main, the play’s focus is on relationships rather than physicality or action. This presents a challenge, both to a director and to the cast, Kline said.


“I always wanted to direct ‘Proof,’ but I knew there would be inherent challenges and hurdles to get over. It is a very talky script. It is my job and that of the actors to ensure that the play moves at a rapid pace,” Kline said.


The play’s focus on the haunted legacy of a father who was both gifted and mentally disturbed raises a question to some – about whether mental illness and genius are too closely linked in popular culture, and whether there is saturation of plays or films with mental illness as a theme.


To Kline, it’s the bond between the characters that is the most important aspect of “Proof,” and what he and the cast seek to convey.


“I don’t think the playwright is intending to paint mental illness as desirable at all. There is hardship. The father’s behavior has caused very serious familial consequences,” Kline said.


He observed, “We are not zoning in on this play as a mental illness play. The more exciting theme is the fine line between brilliance and madness. That is one of the things that is dangled in front of the audience to make their own decisions.”


The play features Cheryl Bellows of Medford, Fred Robbins of Burlington, Sabrina Cylie of Stoneham and Jorge Martinez of Worcester.


If you go


Arlington Friends of The Drama presents ‘Proof’


Where AFD Theatre, 22 Academy St., Arlington


When Fridays, Feb. 12 and 19, and Saturdays, Feb. 13 and 20, 8 p.m.; Sundays, Feb. 14 and 21, 4 p.m.


Tickets $18.


For more information call 781-646-5922 or visit www.afdtheatre.org.


Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.