“Proof” at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Dana Scott (left) and Alan Kaplan
Photo by Eric Chazankin

"Proof" by David Auburn

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

6th Street Offers Compelling "Proof"

Catherine’s father Robert, a renowned mathematical genius, is dead. His final years were marked by a gradual descent into madness and the tragic loss of his abilities. She looked after him during those years at his home in Chicago, isolating herself from friends, forsaking her own brilliance in mathematics, putting her education on hold. Now, at 25, she is bitter, angry, and more than a little disturbed at the possibility of being…disturbed. She fears she may have inherited not just her father’s genius, but his madness as well. Then her estranged but caring older sister Claire suddenly arrives, landing smack in the middle of Catherine’s world of decay and despair to offer a lifeline.

At once gripping and warmly engaging, “Proof” is a story about relationships - between parents and children, between siblings, between friends, between lovers. It’s funny, sad, and thoroughly absorbing. The wrenching twist in the tale is revealed when Hal, one of Robert’s former students, discovers a “proof” - a document proving a paradigm-shifting mathematical discovery – locked away in Robert’s desk. Proof, in the context of the story, has more than one meaning. In one sense, “proof” describess the document. In another sense, “proof” is convincing evidence. Both meanings come into play and forcefully intersect on different levels as the story unfolds. Is there proof of sanity? Proof of love? Proof of authorship? These questions, and ultimately the answers, form the fascinating basis of the story.

“Proof” made its Broadway debut in October 2000, winning the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play,  a Drama Desk award and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  It also garnered Tony nominations  for all four cast members, with the award for Best Actress going to Mary-Louise Parker. “Proof” is only the second play by American playwright David Auburn, who saw his first full-length play, “Skyscraper”, run off-Broadway in 1997. He also adapted “Proof” into a film version, which premiered in 2005.

Catherine (Dana Scott) is the first to appear onstage, clearly a tormented soul. Immediately we want this girl to be happy. Scott possesses an internal genius in how she allows her emotions to play on her face and through her body. Her characterization is flawless and unforgettable.

Robert (Alan Kaplan) haunts the story, in both flashbacks and ghostly visitations. Kaplan infuses his eccentric character with love and pride in his daughter. It’s also a treat to hear Kaplan, as a native Chicagoan, talk so fondly about the Chicago of the story’s setting.

Robert’s former student Hal (Mark Bradbury) makes amazing discoveries that are central to the story. Bradbury, so engagingly effective as the grown-up Ralphie in 6th Street’s smash holiday hit “A Christmas Story”, once again draws us into his world onstage. His romance with the distressed Catherine is like a blossom emerging from the dust.

Catherine’s sister Claire (Jill Zimmerman) is a woman with a loving nature, but accustomed to having control. Zimmerman presents a graceful tower of strength whose concern for her sister is kept at a precisely controlled simmer, slowly building to an explosion of mama-lion  fury that is truly splendid to witness.

Director David Lear has done a really fine job of staging this beautifully engaging story. Perhaps one love scene on the porch, where Hal kneels to Catherine with his back to most of the audience, could be reworked a bit more effectively. The contemplative score, and versatile set design by Paul Gilger, combine to create the right atmosphere of death and dying, memories and hope.

With its naturalistic dialogue, exceptionally well-written parts and strong performances throughout, “Proof” will appeal to mystery lovers, but anyone who likes a great story – and who doesn’t? – will love this show.

When: Now through February 26, 2012
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
2:00 p.m. Saturday, February 25
Tickets: $10 to $25 (general seating)
Location: Studio Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse
52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA
Phone: 707-523-4185
Website: http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com/