Many of our smaller theater companies, as the years go by, take on challenges that are not what we expect from them. Example: Chicago Fusion Theatre is known for “physical theater” and in their current production, “Proof”, the award winning play by local Playwright David Auburn, they are much more mental than physical. Of course, the fact that the play deals with a mathematician and his works, a University of Chicago Professor in Mathematics, at that, makes it even more of a change. I like the idea of exploration of new frontiers and would like to see more companies do this. I attended one of the last previews of this production and was amazed at how ready for the public they were. Often, when I attend a preview, I find myself uncomfortable as the actors and technical people are still not in perfect harmony. This group was.
While I can applaud them for taking on this challenge, I am not sure that the venue they chose ( the 3rd floor Gallery Space at The Royal George) was the best spot for a think piece. While it is an intimate space allowing the audience to be the proverbial “fly on the wall”, the cane back chairs offer little comfort and sitting for two hours on one is not an easy thing to do. The other part of a small theater is the limited stage space which does not allow for much latitude on a set. The play is supposed to take place in the back yard ( patio or deck- I have seen it done both ways) of an older bungalow somewhere in Hyde Park. In most cases, the actors go in and out of the house through a screen door and when coming from other than the house, they enter through a gate- no so in this production. The set ( Scott Schoonover, who also did the props and costumes) is a back wall, mirrored and two sidewalls and on the porch/patio/deck, a chair, so any one entering the stage from away from the house does so from the audience section and to be honest, the mirrored walls reflection of some of the audience was distracting.
Alex C. Moore , again under some limiting conditions, did a decent job of direction and his four actors fit their roles. This is a small theater, and today’s young actors tend to think that if in a small house, you do not have to project and enunciate, but guess what you do! Auburn’s words are KEY to the understanding of these people and missing some of the lines can be a major part of an audience member appreciating just what “Proof” is really about. Let me get to the story for those of you have never seen a full scale production of this play. There are two sisters, Catherine ( the lovely and spirited Natalie DiCristofano) who has given up almost five years of her life to care for her ailing father Robert ( Sandy Elias) a mathematical genius. The other sister, Claire ( Nilsa Reyna) lives in New York with the man she plans on marrying and has spent very little time with her father during the mental breakdown and never experienced the deterioration that Catherine did. Their father has died, thus Claire has come back for the funeral.
A number of notebooks have been found, filled wth formulas and jotting by their dad and one og his top grad studets, Hal ( skillfully played by Nick Freed) is searching through them to see if there is anything of note that might change his world. Catherine, by the way is a math genius as well and Claire’s fear is that while she may have inherited their dad’s brain, she may also have inherited what caused the mental unbalance as well. While all this is going on, Catherine is able to see her father’s ghost ( yes , she is the only character that can see Robert) and they are able to communicate about things in the past. There is also a flashback, in Catherine’s mind where she first meets Hal, but otherwise in the entire play, only Catherine can see him.
During the course of the story, Catherine and Hal , spend a night together, not because they have fallen in love, but for relief from the stress they have been living through. Catherine, feeling comfortable with Hal, allows him to see an additional notebook, He reads this book and comes back with great excitement that this is by far the greatest discovery he has ever seen. It is in fact a “Proof”, every mathematician’s dream come true. Catherine tells him that she in fact wrote this and both Hal and Claire express doubt that anyone other than Robert could have. What comes from this is friction between them as while math can be the answer, trust is of greater importance for people. In The end, Hal sees that it was Cathrine who found these answers.
This is not an easy production, but Chicago Fusion has done an admirable job. It has been around four years since a production of “Proof” has played in our town and I am thankful that one of our companies has chosen to bring this classic story to a stage in town. “Proof” will continue at The Royal George Theatre, 3rd Floor Gallery Space through November 14th with performances as follows:
Thursday,Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets are only $25 ( $15 for student and senior tickets) and can be purchased at the box office located at 1641 N. Halsted, by calling 312-988-9000 or online at www.chicagofusiontheatre.org
The Royal George is easy to get to via CTA and there is some parking in the area ( street and lot) as well as valet parking at the door.