`Proof' raises life, not math, questions

Play: Colonial Players' season opener centers on a mathematician's life and death and their effects on his two daughters.

Arundel Live

September 09, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Colonial Players has a strong season opener in David Auburn's 2001 Pulitzer and Tony winner Proof, a well-crafted, lively, contemporary family drama that rings true in its emotional intensity softened by humor, and in its myriad contradictions that sparks interest regardless of the audience's generation.

Proof refers to a mathematical sequence used to reveal human solutions. At first glance, a play that refers to prime number theorems and deals with the demise of a revered mathematician hardly promises amusement. However, in his first major work, Auburn entertains mightily.

He has chosen an unusual setting - the funeral of a deranged, once-brilliant mathematician - to trace the impact the man's life and death have had on his two daughters.

The action in the back yard of the family's Chicago home centers on four characters: the deceased mathematician Robert, who is seen in flashbacks; his 25-year-old daughter Catherine, who interrupted her education to care for him; his older daughter, Claire, a successful accountant who returns from New York City to arrange her father's funeral and her sister's future; and Robert's former student, post-doctoral mathematician Hal, who is searching for evidence of Robert's former brilliance that might lie buried in Robert's 102 notebooks.

Rather than casting a pall, the funereal setting becomes part of a string of fascinating ambiguities lending credence and life to the work.

Proof entertains and fascinates as it examines such questions as children inheriting a parent's genius or mental disabilities; adult children's debt to their parents; whether sisterly concern is a manifestation of sibling rivalry; and whether Hal is attracted to Catherine or manipulating her.

Veteran Colonial Players director Rick Wade is up to the challenge of bringing cutting-edge drama to Colonial's 55th season. He describes Proof as "intriguing and satisfying theater" that deals with the "desire of every human heart to be at peace with its memories and unafraid of tomorrow."

Auburn's play receives first-rate treatment at Colonial in the smooth flashback transitions executed by an excellent quartet of actors. They lend a believable conversational tone to Auburn's dialogue against a backdrop that shows the family's comfortably shabby, well-used back yard.

In the role of Catherine, Kelly Meridith McPhee conveys vulnerability, strength, warmth, anger and emotional fragility as she confronts the possibility that she inherited her father's instability.

McPhee expresses a caregiver's annoyance and affection, a tenuous reaching out to potential lover Hal, and alternating fear and trust of her sister, Claire. She also physically transforms herself into a radiant young woman embarking on a romance with Hal.

Jim Reiter is perfectly cast as mathematician Robert, conveying his devotion and admiration to Catherine, which is highlighted in a touching scene when he belatedly remembers her birthday and suggests ways to celebrate. Reiter captures Robert's gregarious nature and his frustration at his confused state and everything that diminishes his individuality.

Nicole Roblyer plays Claire, who has paid her father's and sister's bills and has returned to Chicago to bury her father with dignity. Image-conscious and judgmental, Roblyer's multifaceted Claire expresses loving concern for her sister.

Mathematician Hal plays in a rock band and is attracted to Catherine, precipitating her sexual awakening. A pivotal character well-played by Josh Watters, Hal destroys Catherine's trust after she leads him to a discovery among her father's papers. Watters creates an intriguingly complex Hal with considerable charm.

The show contains some strong language.

Proof continues on weekends at Colonial Players through Oct. 2. Call 410-268-7373 for tickets.

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