The gentle balance between sanity and insanity is tested through the relationships of the four main, and only, characters in Proof. After the mentally unstable math genius Robert (senior Kevin Feehery) passes away, the remaining characters have to determine the authorship of a monumental proof, which could revolutionize the field of math.
On Catherine’s (sophomore Joanne Nosuchinsky) 25th birthday she attends her father’s funeral. However, the night before he is buried, Robert appears before Catherine, à la Claudius in Hamlet, and questions her lack of direction in life.
This sets the scene for later when the other characters insinuate Catherine might have inherited her father’s insanity. Meanwhile, Hal (freshman Justin Kelly), Robert’s protégé and a doctoral candidate, is upstairs trying to make sense of Robert’s nonsensical scribbling.
The first half ends establishing two relationships involving Catherine: one with her sister Claire (senior Michelle Danna) and one with Hal. Claire reveals that she has sold Robert’s house, desiring to bring Catherine back to New York. Claire does this because she is convinced her sister needs someone to take care of her. After the funeral, Hal and Catherine sleep together, allowing Catherine to trust Hal enough to show him the location of the groundbreaking proof. This trust is put to the test in the second act after Catherine claims the proof was hers.
The second half of the play switches between present time and the past, before Robert’s death. Through these flashbacks, the audience witnesses Robert fade in and out of lucidity. This, alongside the fact that the proof was written in handwriting suspiciously similar to Robert’s, casts doubt upon Catherine’s claims.
Nosuchinsky has a big role to fill as the emotional and cornered daughter. There is a complexity to the role that doesn’t exist for the others as her character changes drastically between the flashbacks and the present.
Nosuchinsky shines brightest during a scene in the second half where she confronts the truth about her father: It’s the perfect cocktail of angst and resignation.
The other half of Proof’s power acting is Feehery’s portrayal of Robert. Although he spends the least time on stage, his role has the biggest impact on not only the plot of the play but also the audience. Feehery’s attention to detail brings to life Robert and his pseudo-schizophrenic tendencies. He toes the line, puzzling the audience as well as the
The roles of Hal and Claire were completely eclipsed by the strong chemistry between Robert and Catherine. Feehery and Nosuchinsky actually manage to feel like father and daughter. While neither Kelly nor Danna had poor performances, they couldn’t compete with the electricity of the other two.
Everything from the casting to the wardrobe helped make the characters believable in a play fraught with tension. Each actor was able to step up and embrace the emotions of his or her character. Also, the wardrobe brought a look to each person that accentuated the character — from Claire’s cuff links to Robert’s pencil tucked behind his ear.
The actors owned the single, unchanging set of Robert’s back porch. The construction crew actually built a porch on the stage, complete with roof and leaves in the gutter. There were even details inside for the times when the doors were open. Unfortunately for this amazing set, the gutter might impede the view of the stage if you sit toward the back.
The lighting was also strong, often clueing in the audience to the time of day and helping to sort out the timeline. The ice-blue lighting during a winter scene was so persuasive, yet subtle, that the audience shouldn’t be surprised to get chills.
Proof is complex and could be more confusing because of the flashbacks in the second half, although it’s safe to say that anytime Robert shows up after intermission it’s a scene taking place in the past. While the slow pace of the play might lose some of the audience, the few humorous moments aren’t fully appreciated because there isn’t a pause for the audience to laugh.
The play draws parallels between the unanswerable in math and the unanswerable in relationships. In the end, a production that was filled with confusion and mistrust ends on a light, uplifting note.
Proof continues its run this weekend in the Yvonne Theater. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.