The University of Alabama at Huntsville Theatre Department is running the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play, Proof, through this Sunday at their Wilson Hall theatre. This is a moving story, and a deep script, but the UAH production doesn’t quite reach its potential.
The story revolves around the daughter of a math genius, “Robert”, who recently died. The daughter, “Catherine”, cared for him in his last few years, as he suffered from mental illness (think, A Beautiful Mind). She is now at loose ends, and has to deal with the world from which she has been cut off, and worries that she has inherited her father’s mental instability. She meets a young former grad student of her father’s, “Hal”, and a relationship blossoms. At the same time, her sister, “Claire” descends on the house to take over. On the surface, the “proof” in the title refers to a mathematical Proof, the ultimate prize for any mathematician, and an achievement for which Catherine’s father was famous in his youth–younger than Catherine’s current age. On another level, there is the question of the authorship of a newly discovered Proof among her father’s notes. How can the ownership be proved? How can Catherine prove her sanity? What is the proof of the depth of her personal relationships? These are all questions into which the play digs, and at its best, the show is about the relationships, with a leavening of suspense over the new Proof.
Unfortunately, this UAH production doesn’t reach the potential of the award-winning script. The direction, by Karen Baker, almost appears nonexistent. There is unmotivated blocking and stage movement, numerous awkward stage pictures, and it would be hard to make one of the key relationships–between Catherine and Hal–more uncomfortable and unbelievable. There are times when the performances are spot-on, and we get a glimmer of the script’s potential, but generally those times are when the emotional moment in the plot moves to match what the actors were already doing, rather than the actors taking the journey with the lines. The actors tend to stay on an emotional level for too long, and thus miss out on portraying all of the subtleties in their relationships. The budding romance between Hal and Catherine strikes out of the blue, and disappears just as quickly, with no proper build-up in chemistry, making for a very awkward relationship. With the more touching moments and varied character interactions missed, much of the show’s humor and tenderness is glossed over.
Dr. Chad Allen Thomas, as the father, “Robert”, is acting his butt off, and does a very nice job most of the time. Only occasionally is he a little TOO earnest for too long, missing the heart of a few of the more tender moments with his daughter. Lexi Mecikalski, as the central character, “Catherine”, really tries very hard, but lacks the levels needed to portray all the aspects of this character and what she is going through. Matt Jones, as the boyfriend/former grad student, “Hal”, has a performance that works much of the time, when he is in flip, self-deprecating mode, but is generally lacking in any connection with his fellow performers. Kayli Wood, as the sister, “Claire”, seems to only have a single acting level–a sharp, rapid-fire delivery, with precise tempo–which occasionally fits the scene, but totally misses all the fine colors to her relationship with, and concern for, her sister.
The technical elements are quite fine. The costumes, by Karen Baker, and the scenery, by David Harwell, both well support the production, and add to the locale and characters. The lighting, by Ronnie Foreman, and the sound, by Johnna Doty, likewise support the script ably, and have a few quite impressive special-effect moments.
Overall, this is a solid script, with a deep and touching collection of characters, but this production doesn’t quite bring all that into the audience’s view. Proof runs through this Sunday. Show times and ticket information can be found here.
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