Hannah Connally & Rick O’Daniel Munger in Proof. Photo courtesy Theatreworks of SOIN.
By David Auburn
Directed by Jason Roseberry
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
David Auburn’s play is about familial conflict and the need to provide evidence of ourselves. Family conflict is a common enough theme in American drama – try naming one classic play about something else and you may have to think awhile, but scientific proof as an article of faith is explored less often.
Catherine (Hannah Connally) is the younger daughter of Robert (Rick O’Daniel-Munger), a famed University of Chicago mathematician, who has just died after several years struggling with an unnamed mental illness. Catherine lived with and cared for him in his last years. Her sister, Claire (Melinda Beck) lives in New York City but has returned home for the funeral and to settle family affairs. Also on the scene is one of Robert’s former students, Hal (Westley Yunker), who is now teaching at the University of Chicago but has spent the last several days sorting through Robert’s piles of notebooks.
The two sisters are as different as they are alike, with Claire immediately seeking to control Catherine’s fate out of fear that her sibling also has mental health issues. When Hal finds a revelatory, game-changing theorem in one of Robert’s notebooks, all assumptions are called into question.
The text establishes from the beginning that Catherine is also a gifted mathematician and the question of her mental stability is raised independent of Claire’s concerns, so the play centers on the ability of the characters to believe in one another. Robert, seen in flashbacks, has great confidence in Catherine’s abilities and recognizes the bond between them that neither share with Claire. Hal and Catherine become involved on intimate terms, and his role in all of this seems on uncertain footing.
Hannah Connally gives Catherine such a bruised and sullen nature that we might be willing to believe madness has taken hold, but she also navigates the sharp intelligence that works its way through the grief. Her offbeat chemistry with Westley Yunker makes sense of the sudden romantic spark, and she and Melinda Beck orchestrate the complexity of their sibling relationship with skill and feeling. Rick O’Daniel-Munger shapes the addled and ailing academic father with authentic feeling. The playing does justice to the dialogue, which is honest and unforced.
Although the autumnal set does not betray its Chicago outskirts, it somehow feels more small-town Indiana that is good for the production, but otherwise, this is a strong and sure presentation of a Pulitzer-prize winning play. Theatreworks of Southern Indiana is a young company, but they don’t seem to lack experience, and they are ambitiously developing their own venue in a historic bank building in New Albany that is both luxurious and cozy. They seem determined to stay.
September 22 –October 1, 2017
Theatreworks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.