Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot revolves around Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant but mentally unstable mathematician, Robert. After his death, Catherine struggles with her own mathematical genius and the fear of inheriting her father's mental illness. Her struggle is compounded by the arrival of Hal, one of her father's former students, and her sister Claire, who comes back home to settle their fathers affairs.
Auburn's play is well composed and structured with realistically drawn characters. His dialogue is sharp and intelligent and moves the plot forward while also revealing the inner workings of the characters' minds. While Proof delves into the wonder and complexity of mathematics, it makes the topic accessible to the audience by not overwhelming them with technical terms or language. Even though math is often talked about, the play never loses sight of its emotional core. As the complexities of family relationships are explored, the emotional resonance of the characters' journeys is both moving and relatable.
The play also delves into several thought-provoking themes, including grief, the struggle to find one's identity amidst the shadow of a famous parent, the burden of caregiving, the fine line between genius and madness, and the challenges faced by women in male-dominated fields like mathematics. It also raises questions about trust, both in relationships and in the academic world, and Auburn also finds a way to have the mathematical theme serve as a metaphor for the intricate relationships, the concerns of trust that the characters experience, and the characters' quests for truth and meaning in their lives. It's a fantastic play with wonderful characters and I'm surprised it is not produced more often these days, since it only require a cast of four and was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.
Richard Vines' direction is spotless. In his pre-show speech, he mentioned how he's wanted to direct this show for 20 years, and his clear understanding of the material and the characters shines through brightly with well-composed staging, realistic character development, and natural confrontations and interactions among his cast members. His ability to draw out nuanced performances from the cast is evident, resulting in a production that feels intimate and packed with emotion. The small Ghostlight auditorium seats fewer than 80 people, which means that no matter where you sit you will feel connected to the characters.
GinaKay Howell provides depth and nuance to the complex character of Catherine, offering a compelling portrayal of the conflict between Catherine's desire to be believed and her fear of succumbing to her father's mental illness. Howell is fantastic and entirely believable as this young woman; her depiction of the inner turmoil that Catherine constantly struggles with is extremely genuine, and her connection to her fellow castmates is always entirely realistic and authentic, making the audience empathize with her struggles.
As Hal, the former student of Robert who is going through his notebooks to see if there was anything of significance, Justin Harris beautifully embodies the character's enthusiasm for mathematics. Harris's down-to-earth nature and likable portrayal makes Hal a relatable and interesting character. Kaitlyn Johnson is great as Claire, Catherine's older sister. Claire is a practical, well-organized woman who often clashes with Catherine's emotional intensity, and Johnson effectively conveys Claire's concern for her sister and her desire to protect the family's interests. Howie Johnson delivers a warm and entirely believable portrayal of Robert, a brilliant and lovable mathematician who also happens to suffer from mental illness. Johnson's performance captures the complexity of a man who is always on the brink between genius and madness.
Vines' set design that depicts the back porch of Robert and Catherine's home is adequate, if somewhat unremarkable; with a door that looks like a front door, it looks more like the front porch of a house with little but a grill to signify it's not. Fortunately, Vines' projections that are used for the scene changes are fantastic and beautifully tie into the mathematical theme of the play, and the original music and sound design by John Gromada add to the overall atmosphere of the plot.
Proof is a compelling and thought-provoking play that skillfully combines mathematics with family drama. Ghostlight's production offers both intellectual stimulation and emotional resonance with a cast and direction that shine and make you feel deeply connected to the struggles and triumphs of the characters.
Proof runs through October 29, 2023, at Ghostlight Theatre, 13541 West Camino Del Sol, Sun City West AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.ghostlightaz.com or call 623-777-9717
Written by David Auburn