"Proof": Perfect for Tech

By Dennis Walikainen | Published

Tech students Frank Sopjes and Nicole Kangas look over the professor's notebook.
Tech students Frank Sopjes and Nicole Kangas look over the professor's notebook.

Some plays were meant to be performed for a university--and university town--audience. “Proof” is that play.

An old math professor passes away and leaves behind 103 notebooks of mostly nonsense, and his daughters and former student must sort through those and other messy matters.

Along the way, the play explores academia, familial and professional relationships, and decisions everyone must make at some time in their lives.

In one scene, the professor reminisces about hanging out at the bookstore at the beginning of fall term, observing the students and wondering what great ideas they might discover, or not.

And, in a final twist, one of the professor’s daughters does a little math research of her own. Or does she?

The play also contains several love stories, between a father and daughter, between siblings, between a mentor and his student, and a fledgling affair between 20-somethings. There’s enough drama, laughter and lessons for anyone, on or off campus, to appreciate.

The set—the back porch of a suburban Chicago house—is well done and it’s moveable, which is good, since the last of the six performances will be held in the Calumet Theatre.

“The set helps compress the action and the emotions,” said director Roger Held, chair of visual and performing arts (VPA) at Michigan Tech. “It is often in these small environments that passionate things happen: living rooms, bathrooms, back porches.”

The story does not progress chronologically, so the simpler set helps in that respect, too, Held said. “Every scene is an emotional highlight, and they are short. One is six minutes long; another is nine. The compression enhances the dramatic/poetic nature of the form.”

Portraying the professor is Dennis Kerwin, a faculty member in VPA; Michigan Tech students Nicole Kangas and Trish Goggin are his daughters, and Frank Sopjes is the former PhD student returned to pay homage to his teacher.

Faculty members Kalen Larson and Mary Carol Friedrich designed the set, with sound design major David Nichols. 

The play was performed Thursday–Saturday, February 11–13; and Thursday and Friday, February 18-19, at the McArdle Theatre on the Michigan Tech campus. 

It will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 27 at the Calumet Theatre. Tickets for the February 27 performance are available from the Calumet Theatre Box Office and cost $10.

eld also mentioned that the Calumet Theatre performance is a continuation of the “run-outs” VPA is presenting—with theater and music groups—around the Western UP. The Wind Symphony played in Ironwood Theatre;  the jazz bands played the Calumet Theatre in December; and the University choir will perform in Calumet in April.

Two after-play discussions for those interested in exploring “Proof” further will be held on Thursday and Friday, February 18 and 19.

On February 18, Mark Gockenbach, chair of Tech’s mathematical sciences department, and Sydney Morris, minister of Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, will lead a discussion of proof in human experience.

On February 19, members of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society will join the play’s cast and crew in a discussion including  the meaning of leadership in the creative arts.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.