BWW Review: PROOF at Ankeny Community Theatre: Risks Reeps Rewards
Risk is something that is important for theatre. If theatres never took risks, they never would be able to grow, or know what their audience is comfortable seeing. Ankeny Community Theatre is taking risks with their Studio series. For the final show of their 2018-2019 studio series, the presented "Proof" by David Auburn. This show closed on 04/28/19 after a planned 1-week run.
To understand the risk ACT took in presenting "Proof," you first need to have an understanding of what the play is about. The play centers around Catherine, who has recently lost her father Robert, who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. She put her life on hold to care for her father as he struggled with the mental illness. At the beginning of the play, we meet Hal, one of Robert's students who is studying his work. Also entering the show is Catherine's sister Claire who has come back for their father's funeral. Claire feels that her sister needs to leave the home the grew up in, as well as Catherine cared for her father in, and move to New York. Both Claire and Catherine are concerned that Catherine may be dealing with the early stages of the same mental illness their dad had.
After the funeral, Claire decides to throw a party at their house and invoices her friends along with Robert's students to attend. His student Hal comes to the party and finds Catharine alone. As they talk, a relationship to begins blooms between them. She gives him a key to a desk in her father's office. In the office, Hal finds a notebook which holds a mathematical proof inside. The only issue is that Catherine says it isn't her father's proof, it is hers. We spend the rest of the show considering the authenticity of the proof and are presented with thoughts as to if Catherine wrote it, or if it was her ailing father wot wrote it.
There are a few risks in producing this play. The first is that it deals with mental illness, a topic that is very relevant for our times. It's a topic that there is just recently being brought into everyday conversation. And with the play not calling out what the mental illness is, it leaves many questions in the audience mind that could become distracting during the show. thought the directors and cast handled the material well and made it accessible for their audience.
Another risk in the show is the language used during the show. This is something that didn't bother me, but I could see it potentially being an issue for the audience. Ankeny did a great job of making people aware of the language before the show started, so the audience could decide if this was the right show for them to see or not.
Taking risks on a show doesn't have to just be in the material you choose to present. But you can also take risks in how it is presented. I felt that they took a risk in how they staged the show. To me, there seemed to be two different ways that they presented the set. The scenes go back and forth between the house mentioned earlier and the backyard. The set for inside the house was a fully realized set, but the backyard set was minimalistic with just a few pieces being brought in and out for those scenes. For the most part, this worked. The only time where I found that I wanted more was in the climax to Act 1. Because the inside of the house was lit and they were outside, I think it would have tied both sets together to have Hal inside finding the notebook in the desk and reading it.
I think the biggest risk that they took was in casting the show. Of the 4 person cast, 3 people made their Ankeny Community Theatre debuts. To me, this was the most rewarding risk that they took. By bringing in new people, I think it helped with giving the cast the disconnect that was needed between the characters. Of the three main characters, only two are related and they have a strained relationship. We do get to see these relationships grow as the show goes on but the disconnect while jarring at first, ended up being a tremendous asset to the show.
The other reward that comes from taking risks on new people, is that you get some breakout performances. In his debut performance, I felt the breakout actor in this show was Josh Sampson as Hal. While he has been in multiple shows at the Des Moines Playhouse, this was his Ankeny Community Theatre debut. While each role in the show has its own complexities, I felt he had the most crucial role as his response to the authenticity of the proof is what drives the second act of the show. I thought he did a great job of balancing wanting Catherine to be the author of the proof, but also acknowledging that the proof of authenticity seems to show that her father wrote the proof.
I am amazed by how much this show has grown on me since seeing it. What made the show grow on me was the risk that Ankeny Community Theatre took in presenting this show. While their studio shows may be done for the season, Ankeny continues their main stage series with "The Diary of Anne Frank" which runs from June 7-16.