Friday, February 17, 2012

AUM: "Proof"

An all-student production of the 2001 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize drama Proof took to the boards at Theatre AUM this week with an appreciative full house audience. -- David Auburn's play is intelligently directed by Daniel Brown, who shows an assurance in managing the play's complex themes. And Michael Krek's inventive set placed close to the audience -- largely blackboard walls inscribed with faux mathematical theorems -- surrounding the actors and makes the play as claustrophobic and necessary to our understanding.

As it begins, we are introduced to Catherine [Brittany Carden] and her father Robert [Cushing Phillips, III], ostensibly celebrating her 25th birthday; however, it soon becomes clear that Robert has recently died & that his funeral is the next day. Is she hallucnating because she can't admit that he is dead, or is she possibly losing her mind? -- Robert had been a major force in mathematical research at the University of Chicago, having made his mark when he was about her age, but had produced nothing of note since then; she, on the other hand, could potentially come into her own in the same field, despite the fact that she had put her own education on hold to care for him during years of his mental condition's deteriorating. Is his mathematical acumen an inherited trait, and/or is his dementia also to be visited on her?

Hal [Frank Thomas] has been studying Robert's notebooks, believing that they might contain some new mathematical theory from the mind of the genius he admired & who mentored him as a PhD student; Catherine believes that his notebooks contain gibberish and is attracted to Hal. An admitted geek who plays in a band, Hal is caught in the act of smuggling one notebook, saying that people ought to read them and that he might have found something of importance in this one...a mathematical "proof" that has been challenging the professionals for a long time.

When Catherine's sister Claire [Rebecca Dennard] arrives from New York for the funeral, her avowed concern for her sister's well-being only thinly disguises her real motive of selling the family house and moving Catherine to New York where she can be looked after.

With Hal's insistence that the notebook contains a revolutionary proof, and everyone knowing Robert's state of mind, Catherine claims the proof is hers; but, how can this be? She never finished her university education, and the position that women have not contributed meaningfully to the field make her claim unreliable, so the rest of the play's discourse attempts to solidify her authorship.

The four-person ensemble take the AUM stage confidently, gradually providing details that challenge the audience to unravel the mystery and to engage in the complex relationships among the characters. -- Ms. Carden presents Catherine as a cipher whose undeniable affection and regard for Robert is clear at all points, and whose rivalry with Claire is handled with kid gloves; her uncertainty in trusting Hal [both professionally & romantically] helps create a fine complex individual.

Mr. Thomas is an engaging seeming-naive sort as Hal, yet his naturalistic presentation has credibility, especially in the later scenes. -- Ms. Dennard's role as Claire is a thoroughly hardened woman concerned for her sister's welfare but struggling to dig into the softness Catherine requires.

It is a treat so see Mr. Phillips on stage again in a challenging role; the scenes between him and Ms. Carden's Catherine delve fully into the interdependence they have for one another. Mr. Phillips shows the helplessness Robert feels so movingly that one cannot help but respect him without reservation.

Though the actors rushed their lines at the beginning of the production and seemed to match each other's intensity, they soon settled down to a slower pace that allowed the relationships and themes to be appreciated.

AUM ought to be proud of the accomplishments of this student production.