BWW Review: PROOF at NEW CITY PLAYERS
While it has always been clear to 25-year-old Catherine, that she inherited her father's gift for mathematics, in the wake of his recent death, she is now tormented by the possibility that she is also the recipient of his tendency toward mental illness. In fact, the play opens with her having a full-on conversation in which she sees and hears her deceased father wishing her a happy birthday.
Set in Chicago in September of 2000, the entire play takes place in the home owned by Robert, in which Catherine and her sister Claire grew up. Robert was a genius mathematician and professor, praised for the groundbreaking work he published in his youth. Regrettably, his later years were marked by long episodes of delusional mental illness. Catherine gave up her own mathematical studies at Northwestern to care for him, and appears to have ridden an emotional roller-coaster during the process. Her older sister Claire has helped financially support Robert and Catherine from an emotionally safe distance in New York. Unlike the frazzled and fragile Catherine, she seems calm and composed when she arrives for Robert's funeral. Claire's intent is to sell the family home much in need of repair, and have Catherine move to New York where she can help her find a job, or go to school, or most importantly get the professional help she may need. It is the last option, and the fear of leaving the known safety of her surroundings that cause Catherine to object to this option, and respond to Clair with resentment.
Thrown into the mix is the presence of one of Robert's previous PhD students, named Hal. Hal believes that amidst the piles of notebooks left by RoBert May be valuable mathematical observations. Robert's writing was obsessive however, and most of the writing is unintelligible gibberish wandering in and out of mathematical statements. Hal has also always had a crush on Catherine, and the two are drawn to one another by both their similarities and their differences. As Hal combs through Robert's office, Catherine finds she trusts him enough to give him a key to a locked drawer in a desk in which he finds a notebook whose contents hold a brilliant proof of an existing mathematical theorem. When he shares the delight of his findings with Catherine and Claire, Catherine declares that it is her work and not that of her father. Her claim is met with a disbelief by Claire and Hal that only feeds their growing concern over her mental and emotionally stability, as well as her own hostility and confusion
Proof was developed at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ during the 1999 Next Stage Series of new plays. On May 23, 2000, the play premiered Off-Broadway at The Manhattan Theatre Club. It officially opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on October 24, 2000, closing on January 5, 2003 after 917 performances. The production won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Direction of a Play and Mary-Louise Parker for her performance as Catherine.
The set for this intimate production at Empire Stage features walls scrawled with mathematical equations, and tables and chairs representing what appear to be both inside and outside seating. It actually is not made completely clear except in the scene in which Robert speaks of being cold that they are outside. The exit to the home is also unclear, as Hal starts to leave left and then leaves stage right. The use of walls scrawled with incomplete equations is wonderful representation of the running mathematical dialogue constantly passing through the mind of both Catherine and Robert.
Krystal Millie Vales is a troubled Catherine. She strongly conveys the character's turmoil, her defensiveness, and her moments of breathless confusion. What's needed are more moments of clarity and vulnerability to make her gain the sympathy of the audience. She plays the show a bit too much on the same emotional note, and at the same urgent sounding volume. Jeffrey Bruce is believable as Robert. Establishing the basis to a seemingly caring Dad and hard-working mathematician that then literally falls apart in front of us. Some fine tuning is needed in his pacing to make us better follow along with him on that journey. As it is an internalized disintegration, it is difficult for us to feel it through all the pauses and the intentionally wandering staging.
Erica Rose Dade is rather charming as Claire. She comes off as well intended, and sincerely concerned for Catherine. She has pragmatically helped her sister and father from afar while protecting her own emotions, but doesn't feel cold, resentful or judgmental, and really handles Catherine about as best as anyone could under the situation. Her acting style is refreshingly honest and natural. Johnny Contini as Hal is an appropriate mix of boy & man, genius & nerd. His character has an appealing, self-deprecating sense of humor about him. As emotionally disconnected as Catherine is, he also manages to establish a tangible affection for her based more on that of kindred spirits than physical passion.
This New City Players production of Proof is a solid theatrical outing that promises more good things to come from the young company. Proof marks the first production of New City Players' second official season. The production will be followed by Twelfth Night running July 6-23, and True West running August 10-27 - both at The Vanguard
In addition to Proof, the work of American born playwright David Auburn also includes the stage plays Fifth Planet, Miss You, Are You Ready, Damage Control, Three Monologues, What Do You Believe About The Future?, We Had A Very Good Time, and the screenplay The Lake House. Auburn spent two years in the Juilliard School's playwriting program studying under the noted dramatists Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang.
New City Players is a not-for-profit, ensemble theatre company in Fort Lauderdale. They exist to stage exceptional classic and contemporary theatre that provides an emotional and transformative experience for every audience member.
This production of Proof will be held at Empire Stage from June 1st - 18th. Empire Stage is located at 1140 N Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors, and $20 for students and can be purchased at newcityplayers.org.
Robert: Jeffrey Bruce
Catherine: Krystal Millie Valdes
Hal: Johnny Cantini
Claire: Erica Rose DadeCrew:
Director/Sound Design: Timothy Mark Davis
Scenic/Costume Design: Ryan Maloney
Lighting Design: Joel De Sousa
Stage Manager: Megan Degraaf