David Auburn’s highly acclaimed winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play is now being presented by a superbly talented cast in the new Swarthmore home of the MN Players/Spotlight Theatre. Their staging of PROOF should not be missed by anyone seeking an evening of truly thrilling performances. This four character drama was so powerfully and compellingly brought to life that it was hard to believe I was attending an opening night performance and not, instead, one that had afforded the actors several weeks in which to hone their parts to perfection.
The play’s action revolves around Catherine, who has just turned 25, and has been taking care of her father for the past several years. They live in a modest house on the edge of the University of Chicago campus where her father, Robert, achieved fame in his early 20’s as a brilliant mathematician before becoming increasingly incapacitated by what is likely a bipolar disorder. Catherine, who may have inherited her father’s talents for math, fears she may have also inherited her father’s vulnerability for mental illness.
In the first act, we learn that Robert has just died and Claire, her older sister has arrived from her home in New York to arrange for the funeral and to take care of her exhausted younger sister. Also visiting is Hal, a former doctoral student of Robert’s who is interested in culling through the large number of notebooks left behind by Robert in the hopes of finding some remaining mathematical treasure reflective of the former brilliance that characterized Robert’s earlier work. Hal is also secretly smitten with Catherine who harbors feelings for him in return, but distrusts his motives for wanting to spend days reading through the collection of notebooks that she insists are filled only with nonsensical material produced during her father’s psychological decline.
After a romantic evening with Hal, Catherine offers, as a token of her affection, access to one special notebook locked away that contains a proof of a historically difficult mathematical problem concerning prime numbers. Hal is amazed by this find, as is Claire who is present when this previously hidden notebook is revealed. He wonders when and how Robert could have worked out this historically elusive proof. Both Hal and Claire are shocked beyond belief when Catherine states that while the writing in the notebook may resemble Robert’s, it is really her own work done over many nights after putting her father to bed. The conflicts that ensue following Catherine’s assertion challenge each character to rethink where each finally will stand in relation to various complex personal proofs that cannot easily, if ever, be solved by dispassionate mathematical equations.
Director, Cindy Nagle Walton, provided audience members with a flawless production of PROOF. Her attractive and fully functional set design and lighting effectively complimented her exceptionally capable cast, led by Rebecca Miglionico, who is breathtakingly perfect as Catherine. Miglionico portrays a full range of human emotions with such captivating depth that I found myself at times reluctant to take my eyes off of her to attend to each of the other three characters.
Gerson Alexander was totally believable as Robert, creating authentic and often emotionally moving father and daughter moments during the opening and later flashback scenes. As the overly protective older sister, Claire, Heather Ferrel was devastatingly on point at all times in her overly-protective concern for her sister, balancing always between conditional emotional restraint and thoughtless condescension. Thomas Robert Irvin brought to the stage a completely delightful, well-intentioned, awkward, and convincingly disheveled, math geek who is both persistent in his quest for his own mathematical greatness and in finding the courage within to make his long-standing affections for Catherine known.
If it seems to the reader that I am absolutely gushing over this production, then you have accurately perceived the extent of my enthusiasm for this company’s rendering of PROOF. Just as Catherine earnestly attempts to convince Hall and Claire that she is, indeed, the author of a proof that has long eluded even the best mathematicians, I, too, am appealing to you to experience for yourself why this PROOF should be quickly added to your summertime list of must-see theatre.
by David Auburn
Directed by Cindy Nagle Walton
July 19-28, 2012
MN Players/Spotlight Theatre
at Swarthmore United Methodist Church
129 Park Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081