David Auburn’s award-winning PROOF opened at the Independence Studio on 3 at Walnut Street Theater on Thursday, January 19th. Philadelphia audiences will be the first to see this production, as it will leave for a national tour (the second such production in the history of WST) when the current run ends. PROOF originally was presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club in May of 2000, and has garnered the playwright and casts many awards through the years. The original Broadway cast all received Tony nominations, with Mary-Louise Parker receiving the Tony for her performance as Catherine. The play received a Pulitzer prize, Tony Award for Best Play, and many other awards.
PROOF tells the story of Catherine (Alex Keiper), a 25 year old who was the primary caretaker for her father, Robert (Bill Van Horn). Robert was a mathematics genius who was an almost mythical figure to his ex-students, and suffered for many years with mental illness prior to his death. Catherine also is gifted in mathematics, and wonders if she is also destined to suffer from her father’s mental illness. She meets Hal (David Raphaely), one of her father’s ex-students who has volunteered to go through Robert’s work to see if there is anything of value. Catherine’s older sister Claire (2011 Barrymore Award Winner Krista Apple) comes to Chicago for the funeral, and asks Catherine to accompany her back to New York. A proof (a mathematics term for theorem) is discovered and believed to be Robert’s final and best work…but Catherine insists that she wrote it. Did she?
The WST production of this play is amazing, the attention to detail impressive. The set (the porch and front yard of Catherine and Robert’s home) is authentic to the last detail, with fallen leaves on the yard and porch, the weathered porch furniture in use, and cobwebs and spider eggs hanging from the porch overhang. The lighting appears natural, with the harshness of the stage lights muted by gobos depicting light coming through the trees. The intimacy of the space allows the actors to work with no amplification, and gives them the ability to use vocal volume to emphasize or deflect emphasis.
None of this would mean anything without the outstanding performances of this cast. Ms. Keiper gives a stellar performance in her Walnut Street debut, her Catherine both strong and vulnerable when needed. Her ability to show her emotions through subtle facial movements and nervous leg tics made her performance very believable. Mr. Raphaely is very convincing as the doting ex-student who has a crush on Catherine. His character is clearly conflicted as he cannot fully believe Catherine in spite of his wish to. Ms. Apple gives a terrific performance as Catherine’s sister, who is very controlling by nature yet wishes the best for her sister, and Mr. Van Horn shows amazing range as Robert, giving the audience a glimpse into both the lucid and non-lucid character.
Director Kate Galvin shows a great understanding of the material, keeping things moving along briskly (at first perhaps a bit too briskly, but that may have been opening night adrenaline) and allowing the humor of the characters and the lines to shine through, never letting the production to become plodding or melodramatic. The audience is drawn in from the beginning, and from the reactions of the opening night audience, follows the plot and character development from start to finish.
PROOF is a modern classic piece of American drama, and the Walnut Street Theatre has put together an impressive production. Make the time to see this production before it leaves for its tour.
Written by David Auburn
Directed by Kate Galvin
January 19-February 5, 2012
Walnut Street Theatre, Independence Studio on 3
825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA