Written by David Auburn
Directed by Tom Wojtunik
Theater at the Variety Boys & Girls Club of
Equity Showcase (Fri & Sat at ; Sun at ; through November 18)
Review by Adam Cooper
David Auburn’s Pulitzer prize-winning play, Proof, is a dramatic thriller of a play that invokes the esoterica of abstract mathematics and the all-too-familiar terrain of dysfunctional family relationships. In a plot laced with regularly-timed plot twists, the mystery centers on Catherine (Catherine Yeager), the 25-year-old daughter of pioneering yet highly disturbed Chicago-based mathematician Robert (Richard Vernon). Friendless, uncelebrated, and seemingly directionless after years of being a caregiver for her mentally celebrated yet challenged father, Catherine is forced to confront her inner demons and her external realities as her raison-d’etre ceases to be.
for Catherine is her sister Claire (Catia
Ojeda), who returns from
Catherine’s private world even further is Hal (Richard D. Busser), a former grad student of Robert’s who is now a
math professor at the
Not until the end of the first act does the play warm up to its ostensibly primal mystery. With mathematics and brilliance being the principal bonding point between father and daughter, the seemingly lost time spent with Catherine as caregiver leads ironically to the creation and exposure of the eponymous ground-breaking, supposedly unsolvable proof involving prime numbers. Was this the undiscovered work of Catherine’s father or did Catherine herself craft the treatise? Underneath, however, is the play’s subtextual and more vital question: can Catherine achieve a unique identity out from under her legendary parent, and will that identity be plagued by the very mental illness that squelched her father’s productivity in his later years?
There is a particular challenge for a production team to put on a play that dabbles in archaic personages like Gauss and disputes on mathematical proofs, as these subjects are not typically what entice an audience to plug into a theater piece. Indeed, the conversational yet uneconomical text plays like a disposable work of fiction where characters essentially are relegated to service predictable plot twists and where thematic analysis stays safely on the surface level. The heavy-handed crafting and clockwork nature of each scene routinely concludes with plot twists that come across as pat and predictable and lacking in the necessary emotional payoff. Thus, the spice of powerful characterizations and the magic of transformative moments are essential to make such an effort come alive.
Tom Wojtunik’s uninspired direction unfortunately does not elevate the character interactions to their critical place of prominence. Performances are persistently one-note for much of the production and lack the punch and depth necessary to make the thriller riveting and vital. Subtleties of relationships are lost as moments are not savored. The strongest portrayal comes from Busser as his character struggles with motivations, doubts, disbelief, and passion. Michael P. Kramer’s worn-out porch set design exudes a strong sense of a well-used yet unsettlingly unstable home. Erik J. Michael’s lighting design and Meredith E. Magoun’s costume design are workable yet unremarkable in this production that never rises above being a not-that-inspirational crowd pleaser.
Copyright 2007 by Adam Cooper
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