Life experience adds to `Proof'

Drama is a departure for Frederick ensemble

Stage: Theater, Music, Dance

August 19, 2004|By Katie Leslie | Katie Leslie,SUN STAFF

They say that an actor's best education is life experience. For Gene Fouche, the lead in Proof at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre, the adage rings painfully true.

Proof, which opened last weekend, marks the seventh season of the MET. The show's plot centers on Catherine, a bright, yet socially awkward woman who struggles with the mental illness and death of her mathematical genius father, and the mysteries of his unfinished work. Fouche, a founding member of the MET, explains that she can relate to her character because her own father passed away in 1996.

"It's not that I'm drawing on it, but it's familiar," says Fouche, 34. "If you've never lost a parent, you can still get there emotionally onstage, but it's easier when you don't have to make it up in your head - the image work is already ingrained."

The "image work" was also immediately accessible to director Ray Cullom, 38, who during his college years at the University of Chicago was good friends with the playwright, David Auburn. As Proof is based in the intellectually eccentric community of University of Chicago professors, Cullom says he knows the plot setting all too well.

"He really captured the life there. The University of Chicago is a very odd place - the last think tank with these geniuses who can't function socially at all," says Cullom, whose direction of Proof marks his second turn with the MET. "I know what led him to write this play and the people, because I lived there, too."

Proof originally opened on Broadway in 2000, garnering a Tony Award in 2001 for Best New Play, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for drama. MET artistic director Tad Janes says the theater chose Proof to open its season because it was both feasible for the space and complex in exploration of different subjects.

"I like that it discusses a lot of themes: love, mental illness, family bonds, family alienation," Janes said. "When you read it, it comes across simply, but it has a deeper meaning."

The four-person cast of Fouche, Barry Abrams, Brian Irons and Jeanine Collins began rehearsing July 11 for last Friday's opening. Though Fouche was pre-cast for the role of Catherine, the others underwent an open audition to win their roles. Abrams is the only cast member who was not originally in the MET ensemble.

Proof marks a departure from the fluffier material the MET has explored, such as Planet Claire, a musical based on the music of the B-52's. Fouche says the change was a welcome challenge. "I haven't done a lot of meaty roles recently. Occasionally, I do some fluffy roles, but this is pulling out some old talents."

Cullom agrees that Auburn's material is more demanding of actors, as Proof explores "the nature of genius, and how similar it can be to madness."

"Proof" will play through Sept. 11 at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre, at the FSK Hotel, 31 W. Patrick St. in downtown Frederick. Show times vary, and tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, call 301-694-4744, or visit www.marylandensemble.org.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 32.

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