River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company's final production of its 18th season at Ivoryton Playhouse is David Auburn's Pulitizer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, "Proof". The show opened on Broadway on October 24, 2000 and ran for 917 performances. "Proof" can be described as a mystery, romantic comedy and an exploration of mental illness. The play centers around an enigmatic young woman, Catherine, on the eve of her 25th birthday. She has been overshadowed by her brilliant mathematican father, Robert, who has been mentally ill for years and whom she has cared for. After his sudden death, Catherine must come to terms with following in her father's footsteps, and with the fear that she may have inherited his illness. As she struggles with the arrival of her overbearing sister, Claire, a former student of her father's appears in the person of Hal. Then the discovery of a notebook with a major mathematical proof in her father's desk complicates her dilemma. Stephen Kunken makes his directoral debut with this production, having appeared in the original Broadway show and then touring with the national company. His keen insight into this well written show comes through with his perfect cast delivering a high energy and powerful production that will knock your socks off with its realistic mixture of comic and dramatic moments. Stephen's first time direction gets an A + from an appreciative audience at the close of the show, making it one of the must see shows of this summer season. Bravo.
Stephen cautions the prospective audience not to be put off by the fear of math, because, he says, playwright Auburn lifts the play from mere formula to the universal themes of love, compassion and dignity. He says it is about the joy, the conflict, the misunderstanding and the miscommunication between those we love most and often understand least. Stephen's direction keeps the show moving smoothly from one scene to the next whether it is a flashback to the past or the continuation of the next day which keeps your interest throughout the show. The costume changes are amazingly quick, too. The depth of emotions, Stephen elicits from these four actors is phenomenal, making this truly a quality ensemble theatre piece.
Jenn Thompson tackles the difficult role of a young woman seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown after caring for her mentally ill father. Jenn gives Catherine a sense of humor to deal with her difficult sister, with the memory of her father and with a mathematician who has more than math on his mind. Her powerhouse performance keeps you glued to your seats especially in the poignant scene where she cries at the memory of her father as well as the touching scene when her father shakes from the cold and from an emotional meltdown. "Wow" is the best way to describe her multilayered portrayal. Evan Thompson, Jenn's real life father, plays Catherine's father, Robert in this play. He appears first at Catherine's 25th birthday where they have a comic banter with each other until you realize he is already dead. His other comic scene takes place in Act 2 with a flashback to four years earlier when Robert's illness was in remission where they argue about whether to have pasta again. The final scene between father and daughter is a poignant one where Catherine realizes the extent of his illness. Evan plays each and every moment masterfully, showing his acting prowess in this role.
David Christopher Wells plays Hal, Catherine's suitor and Robert's former student. Having played a multitude of Shakespearean roles around the country and at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego where he received his MFA, David shows off his excellent acting ability in this role. He handles the comic moments with ease as the young professor trying to impress the girl by telling her about his rock band comprised of math majors. David shows his dramatic side with his confrontations with Catherine throughout the show but the most impressive is the last scene where Hal tells Catherine the truth about the proof. Julia Kiley who usually plays the girl the audience adores, tackles the unlikeable and bitchy role of Claire. In the first act she tries to placate her sister, making the audience unsure of her true motives but by the second act you realize she is trying to control every move Catherine makes. Once again, Julia delivers the goods in this role. Author David Auburn gives each of the characters their moments to shine and this cast takes full advantage of these moments. Stage manager Rychard Curtiss keeps things moving smoothly backstage to help make this a very successful show. A word of praise to set designer, Tony Andrea for a rustic looking outdoor porch. So for an award winning show that truly deserved all its accolades, be sure to catch "Proof" at the beautiful Ivoryton Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you. Look forward to River Rep's 19th summer season next year. Kudos to all of you that make River Rep, a topnotch summer theatre.