Excellent PROOF Positive at The Village Playbox

by Jack Shaw

Andrew Watt and Casey Williams-Ficarra in PROOF at Village Playbox in Haddon Heights, NJ through May 19. (Photo credit: Bill Shaughnessy)

Opening night at the Village Playbox in Haddon Heights, NJ was my first time at that theatre. In the last play of its 72nd season, we are treated to David Auburn’s fascinating PROOF. Joseph Caruso pulled a talented cast together to catch the nuances to dramatize the play’s deep, often complicated meanings.

Not familiar with the play, I was looking for a murder mystery, but proof here meant a different kind of proof–a mathematical proof. Now don’t go running if you aren’t a math wiz. I’m not either, but the importance a mathematical proof plays in our society is not lost on me and neither is the genius who is a step away from mental illness. As a psychologist, I am more familiar with that aspect of the play–especially that phenomenon where genius and mental illness collide or become confused. This topic is not explored very often on stage.

Although not literally described in the play, inferred is the notion that there are geniuses who are locked away and not given the opportunity to find that genius again because they give up, having lost the environment. There is the lack of support in both those who don’t understand genius at all and those who understand, but saw their “genius” never materializing. They were once “the” rejected geniuses who were able to get on with their lives, and now seem to appreciate only the genius in the man, and not the man himself. These “characters” exist in the play, or at least play an important part in whole picture.

It is also the question of walking that genius versus mental illness line. In this case the big question for the daughter alone is enough to lead her to various types of withdrawal from society, near psychotic episodes like the ones her genius father had before he died. So, why did she take care of him when others abandoned him? Other theatergoers may interpret a different motivation, but as we see a lot of the father in the daughter, she sees it may not be long for her before she ends up like her father, and she is unable to function. In her mind, he is the only one who can give her the answers she needs.

PROOF premiered Off-Broadway in May 2000, it transferred to Broadway theater in October 2000. The production closed in January 2003 after a total of 917 performances. The play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

In this performance, the set-up in First Presbyterian Church was just right. The set design was workable and the downstage area was well used. It seemed to me director Caruso could have used the upstage area more, but I could be wrong; the stage may have been less deep than I thought. More action upstage would have been nice.

The acting was mostly right on, but I have some minor quibbles.

Colleen Bygott, Casey Williams-Ficarra, Ron Brining and Andrew Watt star in Village Playbox's producton of PROOF, directed by Joseph Caruso. (Photo credit: Bill Shaughnessy)

Both “Catherine” played by Casey Williams-Ficcara and “Robert” (the father) by Ron Brining certainly gave powerful, but somewhat uneven performances; there were moments for Catherine when we should have seen some lucidity, and Robert’s stumbling could be confused by the audience as the actor having line problems. Because the overall production and acting were strong, we tended to ignore these tidbits, but they are important tidbits.

For example, had we seen more moments when Catherine was genuinely sane but confused, angry but controlled, the changeover in the ending might have been much stronger. Ron’s second act performance was much better–more fluid.

Andrew Watt (“Hal”) was the perfect nerd and was believable to the end, representing the scientists whose lights were about to go out, who had to realize they didn’t have the genius, that they all weren’t the same. I also thought Colleen Bygott did a fine job as the sister, “Claire,” making us see the outside world in its biases as well.

A couple of lighting and sound glitches were so minor as to hardly warrant mention. Still, I find fine performance of an extremely complex and fascinating play worth a look and I hope you do, too. The play runs through May 19th.

By David Auburn
Directed by Joseph Caruso
Through May 19, 2012
The Village Playbox
28 Seventh Avenue
Haddon Heights, NJ 08035

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