Review by Jack Crumley of “Proof”: Carnegie Theatre
The flow of stories from The Carnegiein Covington is going from the all-out rock-out of summer’s “American Idiot”to a thoughtful, award-winning show this autumn with “Proof.” The play from David Auburn developed in New Jersey, and was a Broadway production by about this time in the year 2000. It won the 2001 Pulitzer for drama and the Tony for Best Play.
“Proof” tells the story of Catherine (played by Katie Mitchell, last seen as Evie in Carnegie’s 2018 production, “In Love and Warcraft”), a 25-year-old struggling with the recent death of her mathematical genius of a father, Robert (Allen R Middleton, in a role that calls for wisdom, warmth, and mania) and her fear of how much she takes after him. Robert was a legendary academic, but his brilliant mind deteriorated in his final years as Catherine dropped out of school to take care of him. Over the course of the play, Catherine is coming to terms with her loss, her current relationship with her perfectionist sister, Claire (Kate Mock Elliott, whom I last saw as Maggie Jones in Covedale’s production of “42nd Street”), and her drive to prove herself in the field where her father already made his mark.
“Proof” is a challenging script that calls on its small cast to showcase a variety of subtle emotions in every scene. Catherine’s feelings about her father are rooted in love, but there’s an underlying fear of how far the apple falls from the tree. Claire’s insistence on Catherine moving to New York after their father’s death has her meaning well, but she’s also checked out mental health treatment options as a just-in-case. Robert’s former student, Hal (Jared Earland), has been going over Robert’s crazed writings in a search for insight amidst lunacy, but he also has unrequited feelings for Catherine.
When it comes to this production, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with the set. Scenic designer/production manager Doug Stock built most of a house on stage, and it looks great. I don’t know what kind of brick veneer he used, but I would completely believe it if someone told me that the house was constructed on stage brick-by-brick. It’s the back of the house the audience sees: specifically the table on the backyard deck. It’s a detailed set with some half-dead plants along the side, but it also leads to some challenges when it comes to blocking. In addition to director Torie Wiggins having to get these complex emotions out of the cast, there’s also the task of having them move around the yard in a way that’s interesting and also makes sense. One of the highlights of this show for me is the monologue that Robert gives near the start of Act II; it’s a flashback scene where he’s been lucid for months, and he’s wistfully remembering being on a college campus in the fall with the bookstores full of students. Middleton stands his ground for almost the entire soliloquy, and it really adds to the intensity of the memory.
Each member of the cast has at least one outstanding moment in this show: whether it’s an emotional outburst or a bit of honesty. For me, Middleton’s Robert has his during that college memory speech. There’s a warmth to his voice that wasn’t there when he first appeared as a memory, and it’s absent again at the end when Catherine finds him frantically writing outside in the cold. The character of Catherine has multiple “big moments,” but I was stirred the most when she learns that her sister is selling the house. Interestingly, Mitchell plays Catherine with a unique combination of frustration and surrender after she reveals that she’s the one who wrote a next-level mathematical proof discovered in one of her father’s notebooks. This moment also comes after her character has spent the night with Hal, so Mitchell is layering in those feelings as well.
For the most part, Hal is the most straightforward role. He’s an earnest, honest nerd who was devoted to being Robert’s mentee. His big moment comes in what’s essentially an act of betrayal when he doesn’t take Catherine’s word that she wrote the proof. Earland plays Hal as struggling with his dedication to pursue knowledge and also his newly-developed feelings with a woman he’s had thoughts about for years. In the aftermath of that doubt, Claire has a standoff when Hal wants to visit Catherine. Mock Elliott portrays Claire with a protective strength combined with a dismissive practicality.
There aren’t many sound and light cues over the course of the show, but the few that do exist were executed perfectly. The upstairs light where Hal is doing his research turns on and off in a logical time-frame when Hal is entering or exiting. I noticed how spot-on it was. Also there are sound cues of people at a post-funeral get-together in the house that interacts perfectly with the main action on stage. That’s in addition to original music composed by James Allen in between the scenes.
“Proof” is a play about somber memories and emotions that never gets too bogged down in depression. Producing it this time of year is a no-brainer, and I hope The Carnegieaudiences appreciate the multiple layers the actors are putting in every line and action.
There is some swearing in the show, but beyond that, the tone and the themes in general aren’t really appropriate for children (they just wouldn’t be into it.) If you’re looking for a glimpse into the life of a profound young woman whose whole world is in upheaval, make your way to Covington to see “Proof.” It’s playing at The Carnegieon Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons through November 17, 2019. Tickets are available here.