201 Clematis Street
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Performing at Palm Beach Dramaworks (May 23 - Jun 17)
Runtime: 2 Hours
They may not be mathematicians, but the artistic staff of Palm Beach Dramaworks knows a winning formula when they see it.
Take a thoughtful, well-written play, cast it with talented actors and then stand back so that nothing gets in the way of the audience’s enjoyment.
The proof that such an equation works is now on view at the company’s Brown Theatre in an involving production of Proof, the 2001 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner by David Auburn. Even if you have trouble balancing your checkbook, you should be drawn into this drama about a father and daughter who each have a passion – and a facility – for complex math.
Twenty-five-year-old Catherine (sullen, slack-jawed Katherine Michelle Tanner) is the younger daughter of a revered University of Chicago math professor, Robert (wily Kenneth Kay), who became mentally unstable in mid-career, driven mad by unsolvable math problems. Catherine put her own promising career on hold to become her dad’s caregiver, but having reached the age that he began showing signs of mental illness, she worries that she has inherited more than his knack for number theory.
Upon his death, an academic search begins, as ambitious grad student Hal (awkward, geeky Cliff Burgess) sifts through the prof’s notebooks for any signs of value. When Catherine leads him to a breakthrough in the form of a proof, the question becomes whether the credit for it belongs to father or daughter.
While mathematics is at the center of Proof, the play is really about family ties – both good and ill – that Auburn has wrapped around a mystery concerning ownership of the proof.
As the play opens, Catherine is speaking with her father, who happens to have died recently. His vivid presence is either a sign of how important he was to her or a sign of her mental illness. Either way, Robert is a compelling figure, as we will see, both in times of lucidity and of madness.
Completing Proof’s geometric rectangle is Catherine’s older sister Claire (sleek, assured Sarah Grace Wilson), a New York currency analyst who has been supporting her father and sister from a distance. She is the sort of person who feels she knows what is best for others, right down to how they should take their coffee. She arrives to take charge of selling the family house and moving Catherine to Manhattan.
Tanner and Wilson are very convincing as two antagonistic siblings. Kay is a standout, particularly in the second act when he gets to show the range of Robert’s mental state, and Burgess manages to mine Hal’s many comic lines, as well as switch gears to the character’s tender side.
The remarkable Michael Amico supplies another richly detailed back porch scenic design, following the season-opening All My Sons. Erin Amico’s costumes contrast academic indifference to Claire’s stylishness, and the lighting by Ron Burns pinpoints the many times of day in the play.
Director William Hayes paces the evening effectively, trusting Auburn’s script to deliver the dramatic goods, which it certainly does. Dramaworks makes the case for why the play was both a multiple award winner and a popular commercial hit on Broadway.
Where: Palm Beach Dramaworks at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach
When: Through June 17
Tickets: $55. Call: (561) 514-4042.
The verdict: Auburn’s award-winning family drama, wrapped around an academic mystery tale, brought to vivid life by its four-member cast.
By David Auburn
In this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama, the daughter of a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance; his insanity.
Palm Beach Dramaworks is enjoying its twelfth season in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. This award-winning theatre, proudly presents superior quality, professionally cast productions of seldom seen classic and contempory works in its new intimate setting at the foot of Clematis Street.