The fourth show of The Players' 98th season is David Auburn's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Proof". The show opened on Broadway on October 24, 2000 and ran for 917 performances. The movie version starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins opened in September, 2005. "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 mathematician 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 impending arrival of her overbearing sister, Claire, from New York, a former student of her father named Hal appears on the scene. The discovery of a notebook with a major mathematical proof in her father's desk further complicates her dilemma. Audience members need not be put off by the fear of math because the show is about the universal themes of love, compassion and dignity. It is also about the joy, the conflict, misunderstanding and the miscommunication between those we love the most and often understand the least. Veteran director Cait Calvo took over the reins as director of this extremely well cast show from Joan Dillenback and the end results are rewarded by a standing ovation at the conclusion of this powerful and well written show.
The unit set of porch and indoor settings is by Dan Clement with the expert lighting designed by Ruth Fagan. Julienne Penza, an MFA student at Rhode Island College, tackles the difficult role of a young woman seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown after caring for her mentally ill father. She gives Catherine a sense of sardonic 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. Julienne gives a powerhouse performance in this role, handling the dramatic moments splendidly especially in the touching scene when her father who has been well for nine months, shakes from the cold and from an emotional meltdown. Ryan Hanley, who makes his debut at Players, is no stranger to the stage, appearing regularly as a member of Speed of Thought Players and as Barry in "The Boys Next Door" for Theatre Works. He plays Hal, Catherine's suitor and Robert's former student who is now a 28 year old math professor. Ryan handles both the comic and dramatic moments with ease. One of the comic ones include trying to impress Catherine by telling her about his rock band called Imaginary Number- i, comprised of math majors while their are many dramatic ones with his confrontations with Catherine throughout the show with the most impressive being the last scene where Hal tells her the truth about the proof and persuades her that even though she inherited her father's genius for math, it does not also mean she inherited his mental illness, too.
Stephen Kay plays Catherine's father, Robert wonderfully. He first appears at Catherine's 25th birthday where they have a comic banter with each other until the audience realizes he is already dead. Stephen's other comic scene takes place in Act 2 with a flashback to four years earlier when Robert's illness was in remission, they argue about whether they should have pasta for supper again. The final scene between father and daughter is a poignant one where Catherine realizes he is descending back into madness again. Stephen makes this man's nervous breakdown, a chilling moment, handling it masterfully. He appears as a spirit at the close of the show watching from the window as Catherine and Hal discuss the proof with each other. Beth Hicks plays the bitchy, hard hearted sister, Claire. She makes the audience unsure of her true motives in the first act by trying to placate her overwrought, sister but by the second act, the audience realizes Claire is trying to control every move Catherine makes. Beth delivers the goods as this unlikable character while looking down at her younger sister's strange behavior. Author David Auburn gives each of the four characters their moments to shine and this cast takes full advantage of them. So for an award winning show that truly lives up to its hype, be sure to catch "Proof" for a terrific evening of theatre at its best. Be sure to call Lydia to join this wonderful theatre club.