Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Playhouse West Presents East Bay Premiere Of David Auburn's Proof
Also see Richard's review of 42nd Street
It's amazing how many regional companies in this country are presenting David Auburn's Proof for their new 2003-2004 season. One would think that the mysterious crafting of mathematical proofs with stimulating abstract concepts would not be fodder for a popular Tony winning drama. However, the play is really more about family matters than mathematical equations. Proof won both the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play. It's an audience friendly play with natural dialogue between characters. Proof is a combination drama, comedy and mystery. It has strong characters that people can identify with. Economically speaking, it has only four characters, all of whom have equal time on a one set stage setting. The play contains rapidly moving scenes that do not tax the average playgoers' minds. There are wonderful confrontations between father and daughter, daughter and boyfriend and between sisters. The drama is almost a screen presentation on stage that works very well. (Proof is currently in pre-production for the big screen.)
This is my fourth version of the David Auburn play, and I have reviewed the National Touring Company and TheatreWorks productions of the play (see Richard's past reviews). This is a plain, moving story about a young woman, her alienated older sister, their brilliant but disturbed mathematician father and the father's protégé.
For me, the crux of the play seems to change with each different company. Mary Louise Parker's Catherine and Larry Bryggman's father's scenes in the New York production stood out in both direction and acting while the math student and the older sister were secondary characters. In the touring company, starring Chelsea Altman and Robert Foxworth, all scenes were equal, especially the beautiful dramatic scenes in the second act. The TheatreWorks production seemed to concentrate on the scenes between Sarah Overman as Catherine and Mark Phillips as the student Hal Dobbs.
Playhouse West's current production returns to the original Broadway concept of the father and daughter relationship. The scenes between Sorsha Miles (recently in TheatreWorks' Jane Eyre plus Ghost on Fire Off Broadway) as Catherine and Jonathan Farwell (from numerous productions on Broadway and soaps on television) as her father, are excellent. Miles plays Catherine like a feisty tomboy who looks like she is a mathematic wiz. Her acting borders on neurotic behavior in some of the scenes, and sometimes her voice becomes a little shrill, but her characterization of Catherine is an excellent one. Farwell, with his distinguished theater voice, is riveting, especially in the scene near the end of the second act, a dynamic scene worth the price of admission. His manner of slowly going into madness is mesmerizing. Even his eyes show a certain psychosis. His speech is crisp, almost phrase-like.
Zack Hummell (Visiting Mr.Green at Playhouse West) is exceptional as Hal the math student. He plays the character as less nerdy than the other Hals I have seen. Zack is a good looking hunk; however, that does not prevent him from being a math expert. Alison Ewing (Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Strike Up the Band at the Reprise) is very good as the bossy older sister. She plays the role as an insensitive and judgmental character.
Due to space restrictions in this small bandbox theater, Doug Ham has set up a small version of a front porch that looks more like a cottage than a home. However, that is a minor point. Director Lois Grandi keeps the scenes moving rapidly with no dull spots. She keeps the dialogue snappy and this keeps the play from sagging. After the fourth time, I found it still absorbing and well done.
Proof runs thru September 27 at the Knights Stage 3 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Playhouse West next production will be the U.S. Premiere of Norm Foster The Love List set to open on November 14th.