“Proof” by David Auburn won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2001. This finely crafted play about the growing pains that come with love and loss, is not a classic in a traditional sense (think Shakespeare, Ben Johnson or even Eugene O’Neil), but at least shows the very early signs of growing up to one day be a part of contemporary drama’s cannon.
Sierra Classic Theatre (SCT) has chosen to produce Auburn’s play, giving “classic” a savvier connotation, while simultaneously proving that community theatre doesn’t need to choose cheap material despite limited availability of talent. Personally, I’d rather sit through a performance rich with emotion and leaves me thinking about the implications of the story, than one with lackluster writing and stock characters performed with enormous talent.
Bad writing doesn’t mask an actor’s imperfections. And on that same logic, fantastic writing—like in “Proof”—doesn’t automatically highlight an actor’s limit. There is no reason to fear a play written with complex emotion. It would be incredible fun to see a Mammoth Lakes production of a Sam Shepard or Pinter or Caryl Churchill play, but I digress…
Proof’s story centers on a brilliant mathematician named Robert, who has revolutionized his field three times (twice before he was 23) and unfortunately declined mentally in his later years.
In his graphomania, he fills a multitude of notebooks with incoherent proofs and calculations. His self-taught math-genius daughter Catherine dropped out of college to care for him.
In the opening scene of Proof, Catherine, played by Julia Runcie, stares solemnly at the space around her, as if attempting to escape using her mind alone, the father-daughter birthday bonding moment happening on her front porch.
Unfortunately the biggest predicament for Catherine is not lacking a social group to take her out tonight, or the days she’s wasted laying in bed, but the fact that her father standing in front of her has been dead for a week, and she may now be going crazy, too.
Meanwhile a notebook containing a potential fourth field-revolutionizing mathematical proof has been discovered in Robert’s desk. But Catherine claims she’s the one who wrote it. Her sister Claire—whose success has given her the means to financially care for both father and sister— and Hal, a former grad-student of Robert’s, are more inclined to believe that Catherine has inherited her father’s crazy over his genius.
Runcie brings Catherine alive with her ability to show her at her most bottled-up-depression in one scene, and transition into the young women ready to take on the world, in the next scene.
Catherine’s relationship with Claire (played by Morgan Lindsay) appears on rocky terms. Claire cares deeply for her family and her little sister, but like her family, she only knows how to express herself in a calculated, mathematical manner. Lindsay performs with grace and charm Claire’s delicate balance between leading Catherine towards opportunities and controlling her life.
There is, of course, a love story between Catherine and Hal. Played masterfully by Jody Ecklund, Hal possess nerdy confidence and hipster good looks. It’s in these scenes between Catherine and Hal where she struggles with her ability to trust, while Hal conveys masculine vulnerability not often seen outside a Tennessee Williams production.
Rick Phelps, who played Big Daddy in SCT’s “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” takes on the role of Robert. Phelps talent endears the audience to the bravado of decaying intelligence and unadulterated love for his daughters.
Allison McDonell Page, director, not only chose a “fantastically” written play but also has the experience to craft a beautiful production. Set design by June Simpkins, as well as lighting design by Holly Alpert is artfully thematic.
“Proof” is now playing at The Edison Theatre, 100 College Parkway, Mammoth Lakes. Performance dates are Thursday through Saturday, March 29 through April 15, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15. For reservations, call 760-934-7498 or email TheSierraClassicTheatre@gmail.com . Visit www.SierraClassicTheatre.com  for more information.