Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Proof"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark


by David Auburn
Directed by Danielle Fauteaux Jacques

Set Design by Gigi Mmederos & Julia Noulin-Merat
Costume Design by Debbi Hobson
Stage Manager Paul S. Benford-Bruce

Catherine...Becca A. Lewis
Robert...........Jeff Gill
Hal.......Vladimir Asenata
Claire.....Christine Hamel

Have you seen "Proof" yet?
And no, I do NOT mean The Movie!
TheatreZone is putting David Auburn's Play on the Chelsea Theatre Works' stage, where every revelation and ambiguity, every conflict, every surprise is delivered, live, by real, breathing people --- not shadows on a screen. Family conflicts, jokes, madness, death itself and, yes, triumph and several kinds of love are all there, for the live audience to see, to experience, to share --- and to think about on the way home. I haven't seen the movie myself; but now I don't have to. I lived it with the cast.

The Chelsea Theare Works features a tall, sharply-raked cateract of straight rows in a large, tall, airy room looking down on a flexible playing-space that can put actors inches from spectators. But on the wicked-rainy Sunday afternoon I saw the show all but seven of those on-looking seats were empty. And it was Such a good show, too!

Maybe I Should see the movie, because I have for some time been fascinated by the question of what the Stage can do that film can't, and what movies can do that the Stage can do better. The single set here is the back porch of a home near the lake outside Chicago, with a window on the curtains of which shadows and sound can suggest a wild party going on inside --- but whatever may happen in there has to be implied in the dialogue; there are no jump-cuts on a stage.

Each act begins with a conversation between father and daughter, yet each keeps a secret. The first is a fantasy --- dad's actually dead, the funeral coming on the next day, in the next scene. So Jeff Gill's very real father is all in the mind of Becca A. Lewis' daughter --- which is unsettling, because dad went insane after a brilliant mathematical career at about twenty-five, and this is his very apprehensive daughter's 25th birthday. The ambiguity of this scene sets the audience up to treat the second-act opener as another fantasy, but it's not; it's a factual "flashback" and it's a shatteringly graphic "typical day in the booby-hatch" underscoring this once-brilliant man's despair at finding that what he thought was serious mathematical speculation filling dozens of notebooks is just gibberish. And the scene also demonstrates this daughter's problem: that, despite her own fine mind, she has spent her youth caring for a beloved madman.

The play raises yet never answers a number of questions about the lives of scientists. Why for instance is their best work done young? (Newton invented gravity before he was thirty and spent the rest of his life toying with astrology and hypochondria.) When is it time to give up study and creative research for tenured teaching and conference seminars? Why are all the promising nerds male? (Virginia Woolf insisted anyone who wanted to be creative needed a room of one's own and 20 guineas a year, but no woman could boast such freedom of mind.) And what do scientists do for sex?

All these questions arise when Vladimir Asenata arrives, playing a past-25 grad-student hoping his search through dad's garbage-filled notebooks can uncover a late blooming of the laser-like mind that when young made Nobel-level breakthroughs in more than one science. Of course, "discovering" the old man's discovery will be enough to get him tenure so it's not exactly a selfless search, but a successful one. He does find a theorem-proof so dense it would take hours to explain and days verify. But, did the old man write it ... or his daughter?

At the periphery of this scientific universe is Christine Hamel, playing an older, married daughter living and working in New York and both guilty of letting sis bear the burden of care, but skeptically cautious, lest her sister's quirks turn out not benign nerdiness but hereditary insanity. Hers represents the view "normal people" have of the necessary obsessions it takes to make your mark as an original thinker.

On the stage, this is the daughter's story --- considering her insistence that she did major theoretical work at night, after all the dusting and dinner and care for her father. But it doesn't look like a star-vehicle here; more like an ensemble, all circling a nuclear mass of ideas like electrons in an atom. Director Danielle Fauteaux Jacques saw to that.

I wonder if that film can possibly be as intensely interesting? Maybe, if I ever have the time, I should try to find out, shouldn't I?


"Proof" (13 October - 6 November)
Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet Street, CHELSEA MA
1 (617)887-2336

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide