‘Proof’ Playing At Little Theatre?This Week

There is excellent, solid theater on the boards of the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown, this week, as their new production of David Auburn’s play ”Proof” challenges the audience.

The play is a study, on many levels and in many circumstances, of duality. The proof of the title is, most importantly, a mathematical proof, although many people and many ideas demand proving, before the performance has ended.

There are only four characters in the play. Robert is a world-famous mathematician who has a had a long, distinguished career, both as an innovator and discoverer, and as a professor at the University of Chicago, capable of bringing high quality work out of his students. Sadly, as his life has drawn to its end, Robert has suffered from a condition of dementia. There have been moments when the people around him were uncertain whether he was understanding concepts beyond the average person’s ability to understand, or whether his condition was causing him to think he saw and understand things which just didn’t exist.

Claire, Robert’s older daughter is a pragmatist, who has succeeded in college and made a successful career for herself in the New York City financial markets. She can never quite stop herself from taking charge of things to which she has no right to an opinion, such as whether another character can drink coffee black, or must use milk, even if it isn’t wanted.

Catherine, his younger daughter, is a budding genius, showing signs of duplicating her father’s career. She has put her own career path aside for five years, to care for her demanding father’s needs, and now is at loose ends, not knowing whether she has what it takes to be a world-renowned mathematician, nor if she wants to wade into those waters, even if she has the chops. She knows what is has done for Father.

Director Anne Eklund has cast her production very well, and any given moment of the performance is quite good. But, the play is more than two hours long, and has relatively little action, resolving its important elements in words alone, and she needs to pump more energy into it and move faster through it, no matter how tempting it is to spell out each element of it. Costume changes need to happen far more quickly.

Mary Hoover meets very well, the challenges of portraying Catherine. She creates a very likeable personality, yet always subtly plants the seeds of doubt whether her character knows she’s doing what she is actually doing.It is a very fine performance.

Ralph G. Walton is commanding as the mathematician in decline. His character appears as a real person, in flashbacks into the past, and as a ghost in his daughter’s memory, in the play’s present. Other productions I’ve seen have allowed the dualities of the play’s plot to grow into a duality in their set, with different areas on the stage reserved for reality and for illusion. The LBLTJ set – which is beautiful, by the way – is by Norman Merrill and Shawn Bigelow. It has a single reality, and I’m sure that made it more difficult for audience members to always follow what is going on, at times.

Tara Chase and Adam Owens completed the cast, as the older daughter, Claire, and as the student from Robert’s graduate classes who may be trying to help the family in clearing up the professor’s possessions, or who might just be interested in finding mathematical advances which he could claim for himself, since the professor is unable to defend his past work.

Both were bright and believable.

This is a wonderful play, although there are no car chases, for entertainment without thought. It deserves to be a smashing success.

”Proof” continues through Sunday afternoon at LBLTJ’s traditional venue, on East Second Street, in downtown Jamestown.