Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Strong Production of Proof
Desert Rose Playhouse
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Stephanie's review of Trotsky & Frida


Garrett Losack and Ji Ji Hise
Photo by Katy Greene
The Desert Rose Playhouse offers a solid and intimate production of David Auburn's 2000 play Proof, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 2001. The drama follows the aftermath of the death of a mathematical genius who had struggled for years with madness. This well-paced, well-deliver production is directed by Shiela Freed.

Proof centers on Catherine (a powerful Ji Ji Hise). On the evening of her 25th birthday, she is sitting on her back porch struggling with the death of her father Robert (a wonderfully crazy Royce Saxon) a few days earlier. She has put off her own life for years while taking care of Robert as he went in and out of madness. She is joined on the porch by Harold Dobbins (a fine Garret Losack), a mathematician and former graduate student of Robert's who has been upstairs going over Robert's papers to see if the brilliant madman has left behind any gems.

Catherine and Robert's conversation vacillates between kindness and conflict. They are clearly attracted to reach other, but Catherine is distrustful of Robert's motives—does he really intend to abscond with hidden work from Robert and use it to feather his own academic nest? This is the issue of the play. Catherine wants proof—proof that Harold is sincere, proof that some of her own mathematical work has value, and proof that Harold will believe her and support her even when all evidence suggests she's lying about her own mathematical postulations.

Most of all she wants proof that the mathematical brilliance she inherited from her father doesn't come with his accompanying madness. This doubt has driven her into a near-paralyzing depression. In the middle of the crisis, Catherine's sister Claire (a roaring Dani Villarreal) bursts onto the scene from New York. Claire is convinced that Catherine's depression has left her incapable of caring for herself, so she's come home for the funeral and to whisk Catherine away to New York where she can get her psychological help. Oh, and besides, she wants to sell the family home despite the fact that Catherine wants to stay put.

Proof is powerful drama. There's no new ground in structure or even tone—to a degree, this is King Lear—but Pulitzer and Tony winners are rarely rewarded for stylistic breakthroughs. Yet it's strong medicine and mostly well crafted. The one glaring flaw is in the role of Claire. While Villarreal delivers a gallant and forceful performance, the character lacks depth. She's selfish and mean. That's it. And loud. There's plenty of room to draw her long-held resentments as valid, but instead, she's just selfish and mean. The fault is with the script, not the director or actor.

The performances are terrific. Saxon is wonderfully mad as Robert in flashbacks, Villarreal well captures Claire's controlling force of nature, and Losack brings a sweet blend of tender and goofy that comes through as well-pitched awkward sincerely. Hise carries the heart of the story with her tough-while-falling-apart portrayal of Catherine. She lovely, impossible and powerful all at once. I wanted to give her a hug.

Freed's directing is solid, even stronger than her recent well-delivered Rabbit Hole (by David Lindsay-Abaire), another Pulitzer Prize winner staged at the Desert Rose. The set was very well crafted by Dagmar Garaza. Garza also worked with Freed on scene and light design. Nice job all.

Proof by David Auburn will run at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 921 Montgomery Blvd NE St. E, through November 8, 2015. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $15 for general admission, and $12 for students, seniors and Albuquerque Theatre Guild members. For reservations, call 505-881-0503 or visit http://www.desertroseplayhouse.net.


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