|Photos by Chuck Jones|
Who’s Proof Is It Anyway?
|By Flora Lynn Isaacson
Published: October 21, 2010
Currently running at SF’s EXIT Theatre, Proof by David Auburn proves to be both a penetrating character study as well as a gripping whodunit. Produced by Bell Jar Theatre, this drama with many comedic moments is directed by Suzanne Birrell.
The four-character play is set in a rundown residence on the edge of the University of Chicago campus. Robert (Kevin Copps), a mathematician who did brilliant, breakthrough work in his youth, worked as a professor but finds his later years plagued by delusional mental illness. During those years, he’s been cared for by daughter Catherine (Gabrielle Patacsil), a young woman who inherited at least some of her father’s mathematical genius and, she fears, his “instability.” Robert’s other daughter Claire (Theresa Adams) is a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of girl who left Robert and Catherine behind to make a life for herself in New York City. Filling out the quartet, Hal (Eric Reid) is one of Robert’s last Ph.D. students. The two met during the one year that idol-and-mentor Robert’s illness went into remission, enabling Robert to teach (but not to continue his own creative mathematical work).
In nearly every scene of Proof a piece of information is cunningly withheld until the last moment. On the night of Catherine’s 25th birthday, the troubled young woman wonders how much of her father’s madness or mathematical genius she has inherited. She has certainly inherited some of her father’s mathematical skills as well as his melancholia. Sister Claire wants her to leave the family home in Chicago and come to New York where mental help is waiting. But Catherine shows young graduate student Hal (who falls in love with her) a new math proof that dazzles him. Can she convince him and Claire that she is the one who wrote it?
Gabrielle Patacsil lets us see Catherine struggle with her deepest fears, greatest desires and endless doubts. Nearly every scene requires her to juggle a dizzying number of twists and turns. And in this extremely demanding role, she takes us on a brilliant journey. Kevin Copps’ portrayal of Robert is elegantly understated, powerfully heightening the impact when he brings a focused intensity to brief moments of anger and pain, regret and love. Eric Reid is a delight as Hal. He contributes to the comedic moments, so necessary for the play’s success. And Theresa Adams displays the strength needed and sacrifices Claire has made to create a “normal life” for herself, surviving by compartmentalizing and being “practical.”
Ultimately the greatest credit for the unqualified success of this production goes to director Suzanne Birrell. She is able to draw from her actors absolutely genuine emotions, totally believable moment to moment, while never losing sight of the play’s overall arc. She picks up on the essential playfulness of the strategic games set up in the script and directs her actors to toy with each other in a playful manner, providing a strong contrast to the script’s serious side. Also, Birrell has composed some elegant music to set up and sustain the tension of each scene.
The Bell Jar Theatre’s production of Proof is a really entertaining play.
Proof continues (Friday to Saturday 8pm) until Oct. 30 at EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco. Info at belljartheatre.com. Tix ($18) call (800) 838-3006 or at brownpapertickets.com.