Park Square Theatre's production of the four person drama, Proof, is pretty darn good. That is to say, it's not great, but it's about as good as a four-person drama's going to get (that is, on stage, anyway). On average. Which is to say that everyone turns in a solid performance, as directed by Matt Sciple -- for whom this is a second Park Square production. In 2003, Matt made his Park directorial debut with An Experiment With A Bicycle Pump.
Carolyn Pool hits all the right notes as Catherine, the clumsy, unsure daughter of an aging and deteriorating "brilliant" father. Even as she struggles to find her place and her own path, she provides her father with the emotional and domestic support he increasingly needs and manipulatively demands over Catherine's best years.
Alan Sorenson gets a bit "playing to the cheap seats" in his rendition of Robert, the brilliant mathematician (why aren't truck drivers ever depicted as brilliant?) slowly losing his "beautiful" mind -- or "machinery" as he calls it -- to schizophrenia, (the apparent curse of the math geeks). Still, he deftly tempers his proscenium projections during exchanges with his attentive daughter.
Kelly Hilliard is appropriately maddening as Claire, the big city sister who swoops in to "make everything okay," simultaneously ignorant of the goings on at home, neurotically certain that she knows exactly what needs doing to "help" Catherine, who wearily protests that she needs no help. In the meantime (and not that she doesn't need it), she gets piss drunk the night of the her father's funeral with a gaggle of math-boys while her fiance waits for her back in New York.
Peter Hansen has perhaps the most difficult role in Hal, the post-doc, patrolling the DMZ between the crying jags and screams of Catherine, as she works through her father's death and her own identity crisis, and the cool, patronizing rationales of Claire. His character is employed more often than not as a sort of Greek chorus for the other three, an observer of this barely connected family.
The set by Steve Kath, is a gem, with just enough lumber onstage to provide the presence, and not so much as to overpower the dialogues that comprise the story. It's set at an angle to the lip of the stage, and provides a wealth of seats, steps, and perches for moments to unfold.
I don't know what to make of the script, frankly. It's a bit disappointing, after reading about all the hoopla (Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award). It's basically a family melodrama with some math buzzwords/jargon accented by mainstream college humor and some minor flashback and plot surprises. What's the big deal? Even the "brilliant eccentric" approach to mental illness didn't have much traction. I kept waiting for the old man to take a swing at his daughter -- suspecting her part of a conspiracy or some other delusion. I guess that would've been too obvious (or too real?) a rendering of mental illness. All the nasty details about his final days are presented in dreary exposition by the characters, rather than shown in one of the flashbacks. And as for Math, well it could've been exchanged for Art, Music, or Accounting, for all the real information we got. So while it was a striking presentation, with excellent stagecraft all around, the piece itself warrants far a far less sparkling rendition than it received.
Still, if you enjoy drama, conflict, confrontation and very excitable characters without the burning desire to plunge deeper, this may be just the drama for drama's sake you are looking for. In other words, ideal for the Minnesota Nice crowd who like to shake it up now and then, so long as they leave it at the theatre.
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