BWW Review: Bottoms and Coleman Make PROOF a Must-See

The SBCC Theatre Group made an excellent decision in choosing to produce David Auburn's Proof. Proof tells the story of Catherine (Katherine Bottoms), a young woman living in fear of falling to the fate of her brilliant mathematician father, Robert (Paul Canter), whose severe mental illness stalled his career and personal life without hope of recovery.

Proof is a forceful play, made emotionally potent by Bottoms' commanding performance as Catherine, a walking wound surrounded by barbed wire. Catherine's vulnerability is pre-empted by a defensiveness that reveals her fear of inheriting her father's mental illness (like she inherited his aptitude for math). Alex Coleman, as Catherine's would-be boyfriend, Hal, provides a sturdy, yet sensitive, foil to Catherine's tendency for outburst, and the SBCC Theatre Group's production brings subtle emotional realism to the stage on the backbones of these two characters. A play with constantly escalating tension, Catherine battles her own demons as well as the external conflicts of a sister who doesn't trust her to live by herself, the pain of her father's recent death, and the challenge of learning to blossom in an environment tainted with tormenting memories.

Photo by Ben Crop

Directed by R. Michael Gros, Proof is worth seeing for Bottoms' performance alone. However, playing opposite such a strong lead leaves the possibility for other characters to seem underwhelming in comparison. Paul Canter's performance as Robert, Catherine's disturbed, albeit brilliant, father accomplished the needs of the role, though it would have been interesting to see Canter navigate events with more grit. While intermittently irrational, Canter was also chipper enough that the connection between his behavior and Catherine's exhausted devastation over his decline was difficult to intuit. Catherine's well-meaning sister, Claire (Amanda Gustafsson), gave a performance in a different dramatic vein than of the rest of the cast, making the tone of her scenes considerably uneven, especially when playing opposite Bottoms.

Photo by Ben Crop

Despite some weakness in casting, Auburn's Proof is a well-written dramatic package that tackles the intimidating topic of how to sustain a nourishing and empathetic relationship with someone who demonstrates mental instability. The frustration of dealing with mental insecurity is palpable from everyone on stage, whether that anger and discouragement is aimed inward or outward. Proof is a story about endurance, and about rising above the immediacy of survival-mode to thrive in the face of potential deterioration.

Set design by Patricia L. Frank presented a stately home in slow decay, a shrewd representation of the characters and thematic elements of the show. Other than some distracting trouble with a projected shadow of a man in the upstairs window that rippled unnaturally on the contour of the curtains, production quality (including sound design by Ben Crop, costume design by Pamela Shaw, and Lighting Design by Patricia L. Frank) was excellent. A provocative, modern, and intimate play about the processes of troubled, magnificent minds, Proof provides the sweet relief of lucidity amongst a hailstorm barrage of trauma.

by David Auburn

Directed by R. Michael Gros

APRIL 15-30, 2016
Jurkowitz Theatre

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From This Author Maggie Yates

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