Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Proof (Actors' Summit)


Is there a thin line between genius and mental illness? Can a person “burn out” when s/he gets near the age of 40, no longer able to muster up the deep thoughts that appeared so easily in their early twenties? Can a woman be a mathematical genius? These are only three of the questions broached by playwright David Auburn in his prize winning play ‘PROOF.’

‘PROOF’ centers on Catherine, a young woman who has spent years caring for her father, Robert, who was a brilliant mathematician in his younger years. As he passed forty, he lost his acuity. He wrote continually, but the material was irrational. After he dies, Hal, a former student, probes into his ramblings with the hope of finding something worth publishing, thus pushing ahead Hal’s stalled career. With Catherine’s help, Hal discovers a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers in Robert's office. He assumes it was Robert’s work. Catherine claims the proof was conceived by her. Hal questions this conclusion, doubting that a woman with little in-depth knowledge of mathematics could create such brilliance. His reaction not only ends their relationship, but brings front-and-center Catherine's fear of following in her father's footsteps--mathematical genius and mentally ill.

‘PROOF’ was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

What’s interesting to many is that Auburn attended the University of Chicago where he studied political philosophy, not mathematics. In reality, it matters little as there is no actual inclusion mathematical concepts. This should relieve those who fear the show because it might be too abstract and technical.

Actors’ Summit’s production, under the guidance of Wayne Turney, is excellent. It is well paced and each of the actors develops a clear character.

Constance Thackaberry gives the right edge to her performance as Catherine. Is she a clone of her father…brilliant and on the way to insanity? Or, is she the product of her sister Claire’s attempt to control her out of guilt for the failure to provide aid to their father as she plotted her own life track? You’ll leave the theatre appropriately asking those questions.

A. Neil Thackaberry gives a meaningful performance as Robert. He walks the line between insanity and brilliance with surety.

Alicia Kahn is properly up-tight as Catherine’s sister, Claire. Her pronunciation, body language, clothing, hair style and attitude are character perfect.

Keith Stevens is on-target as Harold Dobbs, Robert’s former student.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Actors’ Summit’s ‘PROOF’ is a well conceived production of an excellent script. There isn’t a weak link in the production chain.