note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
The Independent Drama Societyís production of David Auburnís compelling four-person play, ďProof,Ē at the Factory Theatre is proof that small theater companies provide good theater at shoestring prices, even during these tough times. The Factory Theatre is nestled inside the huge former piano factory that, in its day, was considered the largest business building in the US. The theaterís small, downstairs, side door space, with 30-40 seats, is an ideal setting for Auburnís compelling 2001 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play. Scenic designer Kirsten Opstad uses only a slightly-raised platform, or stage, to create a Chicago outdoor porch setting. At times, the actors are near the audience, providing an intimate, birdís-eye view; while designer Kimberly Smith infuses subtle mood-changing lighting. As interested bystanders, we are swept into the plot that involves math and mental illness, guilt and genius, personal sacrifice, emotional fear, and personal triumph.
Director Chris Anton leads a talented cast: newcomer Kate Daly as Catherine, brilliant daughter and caretaker of her genius math professor father, Robert, portrayed by real-life Boston trial lawyer Mark Bourbeau; actress Kara Manson as Catherineís older sister, Claire; and Chris Larson as timid doctoral student, Hal, (he also is sound designer). Each player is laudable. The castís timing is impeccable and their interplay gripping --- especially during stormy, argumentative scenes.
Catherine has sacrificed her schooling, potential career and life to take care of her father --- a renowned mathematician, whose tormented battles with mental illness are daunting as he tries to restore his former glory by creating new, groundbreaking mathematical proofs. His dependence on Catherine is crippling; she shrinks from society, suspicious of others and fearful that her dadís mental decline is hereditary.
She also resents her older sister Clair, a currency analyst who lives in New York City. She is engaged to be married, and has paid all family bills.
The story opens with a charming repartee between Robert and Catherine, on her birthday, when he brings her a bottle of bad-tasting champagne. Robert died the night before, so their get-together crosses earthly boundaries.
Stumbling in and out of Catherineís life is Hal, her dadís dedicated doctoral student, who is gathering information for his thesis while admiring Robertís works.
Catherine is sullen, distrustful, withdrawn. She is resentful towards her older sister, who is coming to Chicago to arrange the funeral and sell her dadís house.
Several scenes with Catherine and her dad are moving. Their love and admiration for each otherís mathematical ability is a common denominator and tight bond between them.
Conversely, scenes between Claire and Catherine, in which Claire maintains her sophisticated calmness while Catherine sulks and rages angrily, add sparks. In the midst of this family dysfunction, Hal, who belongs to a band of math geeks-bad musicians, shrinks and trembles, yet builds up enough nerve to romance Catherine.
As tension mounts and secrets unfold during flashbacks and current scenes, the audience subconsciously wonders about their own relatives, genetics, personal response to caring for family members, and, maybe, their moments of missed fame and fortune.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour play, written by David Auburn, presented by the Independent Drama Society through August 28 at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Advance tickets are $15; students, seniors, $13; at the door, $17. Visit www.brownpapertickets.com.