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Washington Street Players presents Proof

by Ceci LeBeau
April 26, 2017

Friday is the opening night of the Washington Street Player's production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play "Proof " by David Auburn. Debuting at the Manhattan Theater Club in Off Broadway in 2000, then transferring to Broadway for a very respectable 917 performances ending in 2003, it made its way across the pond to also be shown in the West End. Mary-Louise Parker won a Tony Award as Catherine, the show won a Tony as Best Play and Daniel Sullivan won a Tony for Best Direction of a Play. Neil Patrick Harris later played Hal on Broadway and Gwenyth Paltrow starred in London. It was adapted as a film in 2005 featuring Anthony Hopkins and Gwenyth Paltrow.

There are two meanings to the title. The story revolves around Catherine, the daughter of Robert, who is a recently deceased math genius who taught at the University of Chicago and who struggled with mental illness. Catherine has cared for her father through a lengthy mental illness, giving up her own college education. As played here admirably by Jessica DePalo, she is about to snap under the pressure this role has required. Hal, done effectively here by Billy DelSesto, is a graduate student who greatly admired Robert and his pioneering work. While looking through Robert's voluminous notebooks Hal discovers what he believes to be a brilliant and ground breaking mathematical proof. The title also refers to the central question of the play: can Catherine prove the authorship of this proof? She declares that she wrote the sensational proof herself, but neither Hal nor her older sister, Claire, believe her.

Told through a series of flashbacks, Robert appears at some points quite lucid, and at other times rambling and confused. Chris Erath plays both roles well. No longer able to teach, he begins to believe that extra terrestrials are trying to communicate with him through the Dewey Decimal System, and demands that Catherine bring car loads of library books to their home to decipher them. Claire, who is a successful businesswoman in New York City, returns for the funeral and to try to force Catherine to return with her. Alessandra Horton plays her role imperiously.  She makes it clear that she feels her younger sister has inherited not only her father's mathematical talent but also his tenuous grasp on reality. For all Catherine's anger and frustration, it becomes clear that she fears the same thing and is having a hard time staying in control.

Like the similarly named movie "Doubt," this play avoids easy conclusions. It keeps the audience guessing. With only four characters there is a sharp intensity in their tangled relationships. Claire and Catherine have a long history of resentments that ring very true as sisters. Catherine's anger boils over as she struggles to find her place in the world now that she is no longer needed as a caregiver. When Hal and she become lovers, she feels both territorial about her father's writings and still willing to let him read through more.

Directed by Karen Dinehart, "Proof" is both taut and riveting. It will be shown at the Upper Town Hall @ 8:00 PM on April 28 and 29, and May 4,5, and 6. Come out and support this excellent community theater group and keep the high quality of arts here in town alive and running!


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