Mental Illness at the Center of Barley Sheaf Players’ Fall Drama, PROOF

by Patricia Bradford

Is Catherine brilliant, like her mathematician father, or worse, is she crazy? And how much proof do you need to convince you? This is the central question facing the characters in David Auburn’s play, PROOF, opening October 30 at the Barley Sheaf Players. It is also the question that the audience must ask themselves as they watch the drama unfold between Catherine, her sister Claire, and Hal, a former student of her father’s, as they search through her father’s old notebooks, which are filled with incoherent scribbling. In the story that follows, Catherine – and the audience – must question whether she inherited her father’s intelligence, or his mental illness.

Director Bryan McVeigh has been fascinated by PROOF for over fifteen years. Some may say that his own manuscript of the play somewhat resembles the scribblings of Catherine’s father in his notebooks. In contrast to the character in the play, however, McVeigh’s notes are extremely organized and detailed. He understands these characters: their motivations, what drives them, how they think, and what they feel. McVeigh has hoped to bring the story of PROOF to the Barley Sheaf stage for many years, and has finally been given the opportunity to tell the story he holds so dearly to his heart.

McVeigh believes that Barley Sheaf is an ideal setting for PROOF. He says, “The small space makes it difficult for the characters to escape one-another. And, since the play is essentially built on conflict, it really helps focus and magnify the emotion and energy of the production.”

McVeigh also feels that PROOF is the kind of play that will engage audiences and bring them into the story. He notes, “With some plays you can sit back and relax. Watch it unfurl. Enjoy the show. PROOF doesn’t quite work that way. The play wants you to lean-in, engage with it, even fight with it at times. It wants you to “sit down and do the math.” And, if you do, by the end you might just find something elegant.”

Casting a play which a director knows intimately can be tricky. The question becomes whether the director can truly find actors who embody the characters that he/she knows so well. McVeigh has found these characters in his cast of four actors: Elizabeth Hennessey (Catherine), Jeff Cronin (Hal), Erin Bohmaker (Claire), and Michael Tarringer (Robert). McVeigh says about his cast, “Working with this cast has been an amazing experience. They each bring great experience to the project. Not just acting experience, but life experience. And, in a play that is so firmly set in reality … where the characters struggle with loss and fear, joy and love … you really need actors that understand those things, and then, understand how to bring those emotions to life on a stage.”

PROOF opened on Broadway in October of 2000, starring Mary-Louise Parker as Catherine (and was later succeeded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Anne Heche). Josh Hamilton and Neil Patrick Harris also had runs playing the character of Hal. The show ran for 917 performances, closing in January of 2003 and earned Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Direction of a Play, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (for Mary-Louise Parker). The show also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Drama Desk Awards for Best New Play and Outstanding Actress in a Play (Parker). A film adaptation was released in 2005 starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The play has been wildly successful and has been popular among professional and community theaters across the country, in part because it draws the audience in to the central question. Ultimately, you must decide: Do you believe Catherine, or not?

PROOF opens October 30th at 8:00pm at the Barley Sheaf Players in Exton. There will be no performance on Saturday, October 31 in observance of Halloween. A 2:00pm matinee will be performed on Sunday, November 1st. Remaining shows will take place at 8:00pm on Friday and Saturday nights, November 6th through the 14th. Tickets can be reserved online or by calling the box office at 610-363-7075.

Photo by Andrea Grinwis – Press Release by Doug Schultz
Photo of PROOF cast left to right – Jeff Cronin (Hal), Erin Bohmaker (Claire), Elizabeth Hennesey (Claire), and Michael Tarringer (Robert)

Theater/Organization The Barley Sheaf Players
Theater/Organization Website:

Theater/Organization Address: 810 N. Whitford Road Lionville, Pennsylvania 19353 (Map It)
Theater/Organization Phone: (610) 363-7075

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