To my regular readers: Back in April when I ordered my APT tickets, I didn’t realize that November 19th was the closing show. Normally I try to see a show early in the run so you can read a response here and still have time to go.
So there I was in the American Players Theatre Touchstone watching Proof just spooling out in front of me and I fell in love. No, no, not some celebrity crush, but with Catherine, the protagonist of Proof. And who wouldn’t love this feisty, genius, determined, passionate, long suffering sister, and loving caretaker? Oh, yes, I saw the red flags but…but at some point we’ve all talked to someone who wasn’t there. Right?
So how did this happen? Well through the very careful and very artful acting of Kelsey Brennan who distilled Catherine’s personality quite thoroughly. Moving from the loving daughter to the ambitious scholar and mathematician to the doubtful grieving daughter to one suffering from a moment of imposter syndrome to one fearful of her own mental health to lover to protector of her own self worth and value. And of course because director Brenda DeVita who kept Catherine front and center as is meant to be and I am sure guided Kelsey through the changes in mood and attention while keeping the character true to life. An incredible accomplishment…
Catherine has two antagonists here. First her domineering sister, Claire. Claire lives in New York City and is estranged from Catherine in a way. BTW, Catherine lives in the family home in Hyde Park in Chicago where she cared for their dying father. Claire is clearly defined by Laura Rook as a very cool and calm and reasoned individual who is used to getting her way. And although intelligent and successful, maybe just a bit jealous of her sister’s math genius. But without consulting Catherine, she decides to sell the homestead and force Catherine to move to New York. Of course there is some serious tension there as a result.
And then there is Hal, a protege of Robert, the father of Claire and Catherine. He’s a math nerd and professor at the University of Chicago where Robert also taught. He’s spending long hours at the house going through Robert’s study and papers to determine if there is any meaningful work to be discovered. Nate Burger presents us with the perfect Hal, crushing on Catherine, interested in Robert’s research, and looking to make a name for himself if he can find something of Robert’s to edit and publish. He can be direct at times and self deprecating at others and Nate understands his true form.
And David Daniel is Robert. Yes, David gives us a very calm and reasoned father and professorial sort. And we feel a great empathy for him as he glides from lucidity to madness without much notice.
So, David Auburn titled this Proof and given the math topic threaded throughout, you’d take that as the key reason. But, no. At one point after being suspicious of Hal’s motives, Catherine comes to trust him and provides access to a locked drawer which contains a proof of remarkable importance. But here is a sea change as she reveals that she wrote it and not her father. And now Proof becomes her task to prove that she did in fact write it, in the face of disbelief from both Claire and Hal. And this lack of trust destroys a growing faith she had in others.
Yes, this certainly is a drama about family, relationships, culture and society…it’s not actually about math. But there is a great deal of humor too and that brings a great deal of joy to the audience. Auburn’s language is precise and playful all at the same time and one of the best plays that I have ever seen (I saw this some years ago at the Milwaukee Rep which made me know I had to see it again at APT). But I bet one gag has changed in its humor since this was written in 1999-2000. Hal goes on to admit to being a nerd and defines his peer group as nerds and then goes on to describe that class and provide a list of synonyms, some silly and some rather mean. I bet in 2001 they got a laugh for spearing stereotypes of the time, but in a post Big Bang Theory world they are probably just as funny but in a far more familiar way!
I have seen a lot of great theater this year. I think this is my favorite one coming from a major theater group. Thank you Brenda DeVita, Kelsey Brennan, David Daniel, Nate Berger, and Laura Rook. I hope to see you all next season!