Playwright David Auburn won the Tony Award® for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 2001 for his play Proof , a love story centering on the phenomenon of emotional distress among mathematicians. Forest Moon Theater’s community-theater production of this play opened Friday night at the Wake Forest Community House, located at 133 W. Owen Ave. in Holding Park in Wake Forest.
Catherine, younger daughter of Robert, a former Professor of Mathematics at the University of Chicago, had been caring for him for several years, while her sister Claire, living in New York, footed all the expenses. Hal, a Ph.D. candidate in math, has long been interested in Robert’s work on certain properties of infinite numbers, which could result in profound mathematic impact.
Director Bob Baird, whose direction of Agnes of God last year for Forest Moon Theater impressed us very much, has built another hit with Proof, guiding four excellent performers through this cleverly nuanced “actors’ vehicle.”
The two acts take place entirely on the back porch and patio of Robert’s home in Chicago. The backyard setting gave a familial feeling of love, a cozy spot that was dressed and constructed by scenic artist David Bissette, set dresser Erin Irvin, and master carpenter/construction manager Tony Womack. And the atmosphere of the evening and night scenes is aptly set by lighting under the design of Alyssa Petrone, in consultation with David Petrone and Elaine Petrone.
The cast is impressive. With the able leadership of director Bob Baird, the pacing, fullness of character, and emotional reality is powerful. The sense of ensemble is ever-present as the story unfolds; but undeniably, this is Catherine’s tale.
Liz Webb delivers a performance that is remarkable for its near-perfect reality. We do not see an actress on a stage saying lines, we see an extraordinary young woman dealing with issues that range from her devotion to her father, where to continue her education, her own mental stability, through a secret of worldwide importance, and what she will do with the rest of her life. Webb’s acting makes important use of her face and eyes, which convey both soft and strong subtleties, and reveal her character lovingly as well as intellectually.
Robert is played by Wayne Burtoft, who is physically well cast for this role, being tall, with professor-like flowing white hair and the eyes of a perpetually curious soul. In his breakdown scene in the second act, we see Burtoft’s gamut as the professor’s loss of contact with reality infects his fertile brain.
Catherine’s sister Claire is intensely played by Melanie Simmons. Claire is not an easy role, because Simmons must show both Claire’s love for her sister Catherine and her need to domineer and control her at the same time. Simmons fits well into this ensemble, bringing the backbone and level-headedness that the family needs.
J. Mardrice Henderson, as Hal, offers us a naiveté that he easily makes us believe, along with a sweetness that is genuine. His expression of the mathematical mind is off-hand, as it often is with mathematicians, hardly aware of the mental drop-off for the rest of the uninitiated.
There are many offerings available next week in the Triangle, but the drive to Wake Forest is worth it to see this finely directed and performed play, especially if you love excellently acted and well-written material.
The Forest Moon Theater presents PROOF 3 p.m. April 22, 7:30 p.m. April 23 (Industry Night), 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. April 29 at the Wake Forest Community House (in Holding Park), 133 W Owen Ave, Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587.
TICKETS: $15 ($13 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) in advance and $18 ($16 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) at the door. (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-435-2001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proof (1999 New Brunswick, NJ, 2000 Off-Broadway, and 200 Broadway drama): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2961 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/33 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/proof-10304 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377107/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
David Auburn (Chicago, IL-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/573 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-auburn-73915 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1430632/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Auburn (Wikipedia).
Bob Baird (Wake Forest, NC director): http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/504925-bob-baird (AboutTheArtists bio) and https://www.facebook.com/robert.c.baird (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.