Human conflict propels drama past cold academics
By DEWEY MEE For the Yakima Herald-Republic
I always bristle when I have to see a play that's been heralded as a modern masterpiece. David Auburn's "Proof" has received the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award, but this only made me skeptical as to whether the play was worthy of the awards and acclaim.
In my mind, "Proof" is a thin, rather self-important play with grand ideas. By sheer coincidence, the Warehouse Theatre Company's production opens just as the film version goes into wide release.
It helps, though, that director Leah Hieber has a good fix on the play. She writes, "It is particularly interesting that Auburn's play combines two extremes of where we build our belief systems; mathematics and family."
Thankfully, the play is more about family dynamics than dry, academic mathematics. Subtract all the dialog about mathematical and scientific theories - and there's plenty of that - and you still have a play about family; specifically parents and children, and good and bad traits that may or may not be inherited.
Rachel Kunze gives an outstanding performance as Catherine, who has sacrificed much of her young life to care for her father. As the play flashes between the present and the past, we see Terry Langley as her father, Robert, a brilliant man who, ironically, after writing complicated mathematical theories and theories on rational behavior, has gone insane.
Langley is especially good at communicating Robert's futile attempts to grab a semblance of order and reason as both slip away from him. In addition to his death and the legacy he leaves behind, Catherine must contend with big sister, Claire, (Aimee Hostetler) who arrives for the funeral and seems intent on taking Catherine back to New York City with her.
There's also Hal Dobbs (Kristofer Sundquist), a persistent but worshipful grad student of Robert's. Hal insists on looking through all 103 notebooks that Robert let behind in the hope of finding proof that, even as late as four years ago in his last lucid period, Robert was brilliant, not bonkers.
Catherine insists that all the notebooks are full of disconnected ramblings - all except one. In that notebook, Hal discovers the gem he has searched for; a groundbreaking, 40-page mathematical proof that will confirm Robert's genius for all time.
When Catherine says it was she, not Robert, who wrote this proof, Claire and Hal react with complete disbelief. At the moment she reaches out for some desperately needed support and validation, she is literally and metaphorically slapped down by the last two people she thought she could trust. Hal, in fact, says Catherine could not have written the proof because it is "too advanced."
"Proof" is best when the characters are in conflict, either with each other or themselves. Kunze and Hostetler are especially strong in their many confrontational scenes.
But when the play tries for hope, a tidy ending, and its own theories as to Catherine's fate, it is terribly contrived. The suggestion of a romance between Catherine and Hal is worse than contrived - it's cheap, since it appears that Hal feigns romantic interest for completely self-serving ends.
Nobody is completely what he or she appears to be. For instance, Claire is not the cold, self-involved sister, and Hal comes off as less than sincere and genuine.
The only thing that "Proof" absolutely proves is that life offers proof of absolutely nothing.
But, as a theater critic I can tell you that Kunze's extraordinary performance (which earned a "Bravo!" from me at curtain call - and I never shout "Bravo!" unless it is richly deserved) elevates "Proof" to the level of greatness to which it aspires.
The Warehouse Theatre Company presents "Proof" at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Oct. 13-15 at the Warehouse Theatre in the Allied ArtsCenter, 5000 W. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and are available through the Warehouse Theatre box office. Call 966-0951.
* Dewey Mee has been involved in theater for more than 30 years. The veteran free-lance arts critic is based in Ellensburg.
I suppose you can't get much better than that. He was also quite impressed with Aimee, who plays my sister. And rightfully so - she's a great actress that has gotten overlooked by the Warehouse in the past. And he's right. Aimee and my scenes together are the best in the show -- thanks to a four hour shouting marathon at Starbucks one night.