BWW Review: PROOF at The Everyman Theatre
At the Everyman Theatre, director Paige Hernandez delivers a beautifully rendered revival of David Auburn's play PROOF which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001. Nearly twenty years later, the issues and dilemmas it presents remain relevant and riveting.
There is a mythology of creativity where brilliance and madness go hand in hand, struggle leads to inspiration, and disheveled hermits are secret academics. Others would argue that talent produces results despite all this and with great difficulty. PROOF rejects romantic notions to acknowledge the fragility of the mind and its fleeting capabilities.
The play shifts between past and present and centers on four years in the life of Catherine (Katie Kleiger), younger daughter to mathematical genius, Robert (Bruce Randolph Nelson). They share similar talents and personalities and become increasingly codependent after Robert succumbs to symptoms of an unnamed illness that disables him mentally and emotionally and Catherine becomes his caregiver. His passing leaves Catherine adrift as she now must face her own inner turmoil and navigate relationships with her father's protege, Hal (Jeremy Keith Hunter) and her older sister, Claire (Megan Anderson).
Catherine finds herself up against two social monoliths: stigma against mental illness and chauvinism in science. Her struggle to gain confidence in these areas is compounded by social disregard for the isolation and sacrifice of caregivers. Claire echoes Catherine's self-doubts even as she tries to help. Initially, both Claire and Hal reinforce society's message that math is a man's game.
Proof could be subtitled "trust" as the characters' motives and mindsets are constantly in question. Auburn carefully sets up stereotypes that can be molded into something more or less by the actors' performances. The cast meets this challenge with finesse. Kleiger is both bright and vulnerable as Catherine, displaying both her flaws and finer aspects and leaving the audience to guess which will win out in the end. Anderson comes in sharp, clicking about in stilletos, as the assertive older sister who wants to sweep in and clean up the mess. The sibling interaction is both comical and exasperating. Is Claire just an opportunist? The same question can be asked about Hunter's ambitious and charming grad student, Hal, whose attraction for Catherine coincides with his desire for that one magnificent career-making mathematical poof. Nelson's intense and heartbreaking turn as a great mind brought down by its own illness ensures that Robert's influence permeates these three lives even when he is gone.
Of Catherine's intelligence, there is no doubt. Catherine must prove she can be sane and independent. Her sister must prove she believes in Catherine's abilities and that she desires more in the relationship than just being the clean-up crew. Hal must reconcile his dreams of greatness with the limits of his own genius and his feelings for Catherine. The cast uses the humor sprinkled throughout the story to leaven the drama and lend nuance to their characters.
The play's melancholy feel is enhanced by Daniel Ettinger's autumnal set and the evocative lighting by Martha Mountain. Against this bittersweet backdrop, Catherine's innate strength and intelligence must pull her through the sadness and the madness to a better future. We hope. Numbers are certain. Life is not.
PROOF plays now through October 11, 2019 at The Everyman Theatre located on 315 W. Fayette Street. For more information, call (410)752-2208 or go online to everymantheatre.org