While the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts is undergoing renovation, Forest Moon Theater has successfully produced two shows at a temporary venue — the Wake Forest Community House. Just as the company did in February with Sylvia, they have quite handily converted the space into a theater; and director Bob Baird has mounted an impressive production of David Auburn’s Proof.
The play’s central character is Catherine (played by Liz Webb). Her father, Robert (Wayne Burtoft), had been a brilliant mathematician who suffered from a prolonged mental illness. Catherine has spent five years caring for him at their Chicago home. We soon learn that Catherine has inherited her father’s mastery (and love) of mathematics. Indeed, the play takes its title from a masterful mathematical proof that has been discovered in a notebook in Robert’s study. The title also puns on the fact that the characters seem to need to offer “proof” of the authorship of this “proof.”
What we find ourselves wondering early on is, Has Catherine also inherited Robert’s tendency toward mental instability? Evidence emerges, but do we have proof?
Hal (J. Mardrice Henderson) is a former student of Robert’s; he has taken an interest in the plethora of notebooks discovered in Robert’s office, and he also develops an interest in Catherine. Catherine’s older sister Claire (Melanie Simmons) has come to Chicago from New York; and, worried about Catherine’s mental health, Claire proceeds to make plans to move Catherine to New York.
Proof begins on the evening of Catherine’s 25th birthday and moves forward. The second act includes flashbacks to scenes on and around Catherine’s 21st birthday. David Auburn’s script is witty, and Bob Baird’s direction sets a lively pace. At the same time, the play deals with the serious subject of mental illness and a family’s responsibilities to members who might be suffering from it.
The role of Catherine is one of the “to-die-for” roles that actors talk about. It demands a tremendous range and a host of nuances. Liz Webb handles these requirements with aplomb, making Catherine’s progressions totally engrossing for the audience.
Wayne Burtoft also shows a wide range of skills as Robert. In certain scenes, he plays the role of the “brilliant-but-unstable genius” to the hilt, but deftly avoids dropping into stereotype. And his “good-day” scenes are touching.
However, it is in the interaction between Catherine and Robert that the heart-and-soul of the piece is to be found, and Webb and Burtoft deliver — in spades.
Melanie Simmons does a good job of portraying Claire, “the concerned older sister” who is obviously less brilliant yet more practical and, most importantly, mentally stable. Be prepared to chuckle at her on a “morning after.”
- Mardrice Henderson captures the essence of Hal, the former student who had hero-worshipped Robert and is now interested in rescuing his work (and also interested in Catherine). He has landed in the middle of a minefield of family friction. On more than one occasion, he is “stuck in the middle,” hilariously moving his gaze back and forth as though he were watching a game of ping-pong up close.
Director Bob Baird’s set design has created an authentic back porch of the Chicago house, where Catherine and Robert live. The weathered clapboard siding and the even more weathered vertical-board fence are nice touches. (Note: the program also credits David Bissette as “Scenic Artist” and Tony Womack as “Master Carpenter.”)
Costume designer Gayle Jordan has clothed all of the characters competently, but she scores a home run with the “professor look” of Robert’s argyle sweater and tweed jacket.
Proof is an entertaining play that deals with serious subject matter, and the characters are endearingly portrayed. But don’t take our word for it; prove it to yourselves by attending next weekend.
SECOND OPINION: April 22nd Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/04/david-auburns-proof-is-well-written-and-excellently-acted-at-forest-moon-theater/.
The Forest Moon Theater presents PROOF at 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).