New play “Proof” creates powerful connection between actors and audiences

“Proof,” the latest production out of the Lees-McRae Theater Arts program, combines mathematics with theater, creating a dramatic and intimate play full of emotional moments and unexpected twists. The play will be performed in Hayes Auditorium and Broyhill Theater from Wednesday, Feb. 16 to Saturday, Feb. 19.

“Proof” tells the story of Catherine—played by sophomore Allison Dion—in the period following the death of her mentally ill mathematician father. Her late father, Robert, was a professor who was widely regarded as a mathematical genius. 

When a revolutionary mathematical proof about prime numbers is discovered in the professor’s office following his death, the plot is set in motion. Who wrote the proof? Will Catherine follow in the footsteps of her father’s genius, or of his devolving mental state?

Five years before the play’s beginning, Catherine quit school to become a full-time provider for her father. She must now go on a journey of self-discovery to answer these questions and try to move on from her past.

“To say it’s a play about math, I think is reductive; that’s just one aspect of it,” Josh Yoder, who is directing the play, said. “It’s really about the relationships that we have, it’s about dealing with grief, it’s about the choices that we make, and it’s about a woman trying to find her place in the world.”

This contemplative play, which features only four roles, allows for a deep dive into the characters’ minds and encourages the audience to build strong connections with them. According to Yoder, having such a small cast has also allowed the actors to delve into their characters and bring something personal to the stage that  is sometimes missed in larger productions.

“The interactions that these four actors have amongst themselves are very intimate, and lowkey and true to life,” Yoder said. “In addition to the burden of more lines and more stage time for most of the characters, it’s also just a different kind of focus.”

For many of the student actors, “Proof” is pushing them outside of their comfort zones and allowing them to explore the breadth of their acting abilities. Senior Jesse Morris plays Robert, Catherine’s elderly, mentally ill father.

Morris, whose primary experience in the theater involves “over-the-top, comedy-style vaudeville” productions, has been challenged to perform a more refined, subtle form of acting by playing Robert.

“I can’t be as energetic and ecstatic, especially physically because I’m old, so I have to present that in a different way, primarily with my emotion and through my voice,” Morris said. “I am only 21 years old, so having to portray 40 plus years more life experience is definitely hard, but there are also three different versions of the character which is another challenge. You have Catherine’s version of him in her memory, then Robert from his student’s point of view, and then who he actually was.”

While the play does not rely on exaggerated situations and performances, there is still plenty of action taking place within the interpersonal relationships on stage.

“It’s an introspective play, it’s a quiet play, there’s lots of conflict, but none of the action is over the top,” Yoder said. “It’s real people dealing with real problems.”

This emotional aspect is especially demanding on Dion, who is on stage for almost the entire run-time as Catherine. The role requires a sustained amount of concentration, which Yoder calls “emotionally demanding.”

“It’s been great to work with people like Josh and my fellow actors, because it’s been really helpful to try to dig into what acting is and how to put those kinds of emotions up on stage for an audience to interpret,” Dion said.

Dion explained that in her preparation to portray Catherine on stage she thought a lot about relationships in her own life and worked to understand the way she would react when put in the situation of having to care for a loved one.

“Catherine is in a headspace where she has just gotten out of a situation where she has had to take care of someone for so long, and she hasn’t had a chance to take care of herself,” Dion said. “It’s one of those experiences where she’s learning about how she’s going to move forward and how she’s going to get past this time where her whole identity was being a caregiver.”

“Proof” explores grief and discovery in a different context than many other plays put on by the Theater Arts department, which Yoder believes will appeal to a wide audience.

“I think that everyone can relate to the drama that’s there. Whether it’s aspects of trying to improve yourself and find your place in the world, or whether it’s the push and pull between family responsibility and your own life and career and choices,” Yoder said. “It’s not a glitzy, presentational, song-and-dance kind of play, but it is something that I think the audience will have a strong reaction to. It’s a powerful piece.”

According to Yoder, there is an element of realism with “Proof” that makes it so impactful. Much of that impact is portrayed through dialogue, which features some strong/explicit language.

“These characters are in extreme circumstances, and part of the realism is in the way that they speak,” Yoder said. “It’s a play that is very realistic and is something that these talented young actors can really sink their teeth into.”

Being sandwiched by two musicals, “In the Green” in November, and “9 to 5” coming up in April, “Proof” brings something fresh to the Lees-McRae stage.

“I really hope everyone gets to come see the show,” Morris said. “It’s definitely something different from what we’ve done in the past as well as what we have coming up. I think it’s really exciting to see something new and different coming to Lees-McRae, and I hope everyone enjoys it.”

Showtimes for “Proof” are Feb. 16–18 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. All four showings of the play are open to the public, and tickets for “Proof” are free for students, faculty, and staff. Members of the community are welcomed and encouraged to attend and can purchase tickets at the door for $12 per adult and $6 per child. For lodging and restaurant info, go to

Learn more about the upcoming Theatre Arts shows

By Maya JarrellFebruary 08, 2022