For many years, I have been one to run anytime I hear that a theater company is doing David Auburn’s “Proof”. Most of the productions have been fairly “glitzy” allowing us to feel that we are truly on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Most of the productions feature a big old house with a great porch and back yard. There is always a fence where entrances and exits are made by one of the characters. When I read that Oil Lamp Theater, that very intimate space in Glenview ,was going to put this play on their stage, I found myself asking if Keith Gerth (their director) could possibly pull this off?
If you have never been to this quaint little spot in downtown Glenview (1723 West Glenview Road, just west of Waukegan Road), it is two stores, one being the lobby and rest-rooms, the other being the stage area and seating area. There are roughly 54 seats, so you know it is an intimate space. “Proof” is a marvelous story about a mathematician, both famous and unstable and his youngest daughter, who also loved math, but of greater importance spent his declining years being his caretaker. While being a math-minded person helps in determining where the storyline is going, the plot is far deeper than the math itself. This is a story about relationship and the conflicts that we might feel between things we know to be certain and those that we are unsure of.
All four actors were deep into the characters and they played well off each other. Gerth allowed us to fully understand the transitions of the time flashbacks. The first scene was a bit confusing, but after getting past that one, we were able to determine when and where we were. There are nine scenes in this play and the time between each was negligible, making the play move smoothly. As each scene changed, there were moments when the audience wanted to applaud, but for some reason, held off. These actors deserved the applause. Don’t hold back!
In Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner (he also won the Tony for best play, that season), he examines the conflicts that we all face in our lives. During the opening scene, we meet Catherine ( a strong performance by Ann Marie White) who is speaking with her father, Robert (deftly handled by Joe Page) in the present day. It is her birthday and as we find out quickly, this is the day he has passed away. I will try not to confuse you. Robert was a brilliant math professor who became very ill, went into remission and was allowed back as a teacher and counselor for grad students. One of these students, Hal (brilliant character development by Martin J. Hughes) is going through his notebooks to see if there is anything of value.
The next scene is the day of the funeral and the arrival of Catherine’s older sister, Claire ( Hannah Williams) who resides in New York and wants nothing more than to sell off the house and take her sister back to the Big Apple. During the third scene we find that Catherine and Hal have some feelings for each other,and the next morning, Catherine hands Hal a key to a special place in her father’s study, where he finds a notebook that has a “Proof” that he cannot decipher, but if this is what he thinks it could be, might be what the mathematicians of the world have been searching for. Act One ends with a huge surprise, and not wanting to spoil your reaction, I will just end it here.
What we find during the second act is more about trust between people reaching for something that feels out of reach. Auburn uses flashbacks to demonstrate how close a father and daughter can be and what is in the DNA that may cause a genius to also be a little insane. He also poses the question of can a woman co-exist in what is termed a “Man’s World”?, and, is it possible for a young woman to reach higher levels than a man who has much more education. This “Proof” paves the way for Catherine to become more self-assured and determined to be who she wants to be and despite the conflict between her and Hal, there are things that can be compromised. Again, I do not want to give anything away, except to tell you that Director Gerth has done a splendid job of getting to the story and making the audience feel what the playwright has penned. He has taken this complex story and given us a simply lovely telling, one which everyone in the audience will understand perfectly.
“Proof” will continue through April 3rd with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Running time: approx. 2 hours and 20 minutes
Tickets are $35 and includes complimentary cookies, nuts , M & M’s and soft drinks. BYO if you want some wine. To order your tickets call 847-834-0738 or visit www.oillamptheater.org
The theater is located in downtown Glenview with a parking lot adjacent to the building (free) and there is free street parking as well.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Proof”