Proof and Around the World in a Bad Mood please Minneapolis audiences
Sciple directed another brainy sort of play at Park Square last year, Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump, but, where I was conscious throughout that production of watching a well-produced stage play, his Proof feels as real and natural as the wash of September light that floods the shabby back porch of Catherine's Chicago home.
With its paint-peeled roof edging, broken porch railings, aged wicker furniture and sense of former grace, Steven M. Kath's superb set creates the world of the play, a place where former brilliance intersects with schizophrenia.
Twenty-five-year old Catherine gave up college and nine years of her youth to look after her father, a mathematical genius who succumbed to mental illness when he was the same age that she is now. Fragile Catherine has clearly inherited her father's gift for theoretical mathematics. Less clear is whether she suffers the eccentricities of long isolation as his caregiver, or whether she has inherited not only her father's aptitude for math, but his illness. As she responds to one of her father's former grad student's attraction to her and the return of her smothering older sister for their father's funeral, she struggles with their pull upon her and her unexpressed dread.
Like a movie, the play switches around in time, flashing back to earlier scenes on the porch and even to what appears to be a hallucination for Catherine. Sciple maintains effortless control of time, so that the story unfolds as precisely as a structured theorem.
For Proof to work, brittle Catherine must drive the action, and Sciple directs his wife, accomplished Carolyn Pool, in this pivotal role. Pool absolutely taps enigmatic Catherine's fear, brilliance, pride and despair. In Catherine's vulnerable moments, Pool hollows, like the letter "C," head hung, shoulders rounded, folding herself into depression and introversion. Pool gives Catherine the gawky manner of a shy schoolgirl, and so convincing is her persona that I wanted to cheer the moments when Catherine asserts herself.
Sciple draws a sensitive performance from Peter Hansen as Hal, her father's erstwhile post grad student and a self-identified geek. He, too, has vulnerabilities, but he is Catherine's one tenuous chance to reconnect with the world.
As her capable but patronizing older sister, Claire, Kelly Hilliard reveals veiled glints of guilt and jealousy beneath her perky exterior, and Alan Sorenson nicely realizes their professorial father, Robert.
This is naturalistic theater at its best and Sciple relies on Montana Johnson's sound design of a party and of street traffic, and Michael P. Kittel's luminous light design to make the atmosphere of the play breathe with life.
Part mystery, part drama, Proof is not only a fine evening of theater, but it is also Sciple's coming of age as a director.
Proof February 17 - March 13. Thursdays 7:30 p.m. Friday - Saturday 8:00p.m. Sunday 2:00 p.m. $27 - $32. Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, 20, West Seventh Place, Downtown St. Paul. 651-291-7005.
Photo: Petronella J. Ytsma
In her one woman show, Around the World in a Bad Mood, Edina native Rene Foss hits the funny spot of that common and increasingly ghastly American experience, air travel. The sheer relief of laughing at it all feels so darned good that word is spreading like spilled coffee in an airplane aisle.
An air attendant for 19 years (and still counting,) Foss adapted Around the World from her book by the same name, and her show was one of the highest attended at the Edinburgh and Minneapolis Fringe Festivals. It comes to the Theatre Garage co-produced by the Minneapolis Fringe Festival and SRO productions.
Foss tells of air travel from a flight attendant's perspective and takes a no-holds-barred approach. WAFTI is her airline - We Apologize for This Inconvenience Airline - and she pokes fun at herself, the airlines, and, yes, you and I as passengers. Much of the laughter comes from audience members seeing themselves in her wry sketches and in some of the dumb questions she's frequently asked: "How do these windows open?" Duh!
From interview through the no-pay training to entertaining bored passengers with hand puppets made out of vomit bags when the movie breaks down, lively Foss all but stands on her head to keep her audience way happier than a plane-load of passengers; and she succeeds.
Throughout it all, she wears a huge smile. Sometimes it's that gritted teeth smile that passengers know all too well, but most of the time this engaging young woman's eyes are laughing, and she's having every bit as good a time as her audiences.
Around the World in a Bad Mood February 5 - March 28, 2004. $17.50 - $19.50. Thursdays - Fridays 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays 7:00 p.m.; Sundays 2:00 p.m. Theatre Garage, 711, Franklin Avenue at Hennepin, Minneapolis. Call 612-343-3390. www.ticketworks.com.