Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Strong Cast for Proof
at TheatreWorks

Also see Richard's review of The Male Intellect, An Oxymoron?

TheatreWorks launches its 34th season with the first local production of David Auburn's Proof. This drama won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for drama, plus the Tony award for best new play of the season. The impressive drama has been acclaimed as one of the first landmark plays of the new millennium by critics and audiences on Broadway, London and other major cities in the world. The New York Daily News called the play "rich and compelling. Full of life, laughter and hope."

The TheatreWorks production marks my third sighting of this persuasive drama. I saw the original at the Walter Kerr Theatre in November 2000 with Mary Louise Parker. The drama was on my best ten list of 2000. A touring company starring Chelsea Altman came to the Curran Theatre 2001, and I had mixed feelings about that production (see review).

The TheatreWorks version is just as good as the New York production (the cast is especially strong); it is enthralling, humorous and very moving, especially Catherine's scenes with her father.

The action in Proof takes place over an autumn weekend near Chicago University. Catherine (Sarah Overman) is a delicate young woman who is burying her father - he was a great mathematician before having a nervous breakdown. This young woman, who also has a great mathematical mind, had sacrificed her own studies to care for him during those last years of madness. Catherine is unkempt, harsh and immobilized by depression.

Catherine is courted by shy but insistent Hal Dobbs (Mark Phillips), a mathematics graduate student who has been given permission to go over all of Catherine's father's notebooks. Flying out from New York to attend to the father's funeral is materialistic sister Claire (Aimee Nicole Lewis), who plans to sell the homestead without Catherine's permission. Hal finds a very important mathematical proof that many in the field have been trying to find. The big question is, who wrote the proof? It is here that the play becomes a fundamental mystery about the authorship of the very important proof.

Proof goes back in time at the start of the second act to when the father (Robert Ernst) was alive, and we see the emotional strains between father and daughter. We see why Catherine has become the woman full of misgivings and frustrations since she was a potential math whiz in her own right. Overman and Ernst (pictured at right) create a richly textured lovely shade of love, aggravation, mutual respect and affectionate concern with each other in this scene.

The performances are perfect. Sarah Overman's Catherine is a performance of genius. She has an intimidating presence on stage. Overman is especially wonderful in her budding romance with Hal, who is played slyly by Mark Phillips. He plays the character charmingly clumsy and is engaging and enthusiast. Mark, who has been appearing in many productions in the Bay Area, has one of his best roles to date. His Chicago speech patterns are right on the mark and his character is beautifully presented. Robert Ernest as the father is riveting in his performance, especially in the opening scene of the second act. Rounding out the four person cast is Aimee Nicole Lewis as the busybody older sister. She is comically intolerable and very superficial over her own life in New York.

The set is basically the same set that I saw in New York - a richly two story brick house porch that looks like a home in Chicago. Robert Kelly has staged the piece charmingly and the interaction between the four characters shows the Kelly touch.

Proof runs through July 13 at TheatreWorks at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, Ca. For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit

The next production will be the Lawrence O'Keefe musical Bat Boy which opens at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto on July 16th.

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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