Family dynamics plus mystery in “Proof”
One of the most wonderful things about theater is that it isn’t math. That said, there is a sort dramatic arithmetic to theater, an equation where the figures are living, breathing human beings and the final answer (hopefully) results in a standing ovation, as was the case at the opening performance of Proof, at Everyman Theatre through October 6.
Proof earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001 for playwright David Auburn, and was produced 15 years ago on the Everyman’s old North Charles Street stage with Megan Anderson playing Catherine, the play’s main character.
Anderson appears again inProof, this time portraying Catherine’s older sister, Claire. As Everyman Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi noted in his address to the audience before curtain, the change in roles offered Anderson a chance to tackle the material from a different tack. That’s a challenge every actor would embrace, having a chance to bring a fresh look to previously explored material.
Much to prove
Proof takes place on the back porch of an aging, rundown Chicago dwelling. The setting itself is a reflection of Catherine’s father, Robert (Bruce Randolph Nelson), a one-time Mozart of mathematics who suffered from dementia marked by “graphomania” (the compulsive urge to write).
His 25-year-old daughter, Catherine (Katie Kleiger), serves as his caregiver, friend, confidante and emotional parent, a role she feels honor-bound to play even if it means putting her own life on hold.
There’s something else unusual about Robert, we learn at the close of the first act, just before his death. A conversation with Catherine makes her question — and then seek proof of — her own sanity and sense of self.
Enter Hal (Jeremy Keith Hunter), a former student of Robert and now a mathematics professor himself at the local university. After Robert’s passing, Hal visits to sift through his mentor’s notebooks for mathematic gold, should some shards of brilliance appear among Robert’s final frenetic musings.
Visiting from New York for her father’s funeral, Claire (Anderson) offers some of the play’s more comic moments, as she perfectly portrays an annoying older sister, unable to fathom why Catherine isn’t dating, why she’s drinking champagne alone, and why she can’t appreciate how much better New York is than Chicago.
Theater may have no math matrix or modules, but it does have MacGuffins, that is, an object, device or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters. In this case, it’s a particular notebook that may contain the key to solving some of the greatest mathematics mysteries of the age.
Catherine provides the key (literally) that opens the notebook for Hal, but the question is, who wrote the proof? Father or daughter? Auburn’s family drama is a mystery as well.
Director Paige Hernandez coaxes stellar, multi-layered performances from this very talented acting ensemble.
As Robert, Nelson beautifully explores a man in a desperate battle to resurrect his brilliance and maintain his pinky-toe hold on sanity. Vulnerable, manic, he is both angry and terrified at the same time.
Kleiger is her father’s daughter, as she fears whether genetics will cast her into the same pit as her father, and is angry at lost time and lost love she’s experienced.
Hunter plays the geeky math-dude exceedingly well, and Anderson takes a somewhat thankless role and makes it three-dimensional, as a woman trying to keep what’s left of her family from spinning out of control.
Though the play is nearly 20 years old, it stands the test of time, keeping the audience engaged, surprised, shocked, amused and, by play’s end, on their feet.
Proof continues its run at the Everyman, located at 315 W. Fayette Street in Baltimore, through Oct. 6. Tickets range from $10-$65; $5 off for those 65+ for all matinees and Sunday evening performances.
Buy tickets online at everymantheatre.org, call (410) 752-2208, or visit the box office.