What happens when you combine a well conceived script, which tells a meaningful story, and it gets a masterfully staging? You get Lakeland Theatre's PROOF.
Is there a thin line between genius and mental illness? Can a person "burn out" when s/he gets near the age of 40, no longer able to muster up the deep thoughts that appeared so easily in their early twenties? Can a woman be a mathematical genius? These are only three of the questions broached by playwright David Auburn in his 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play PROOF.
PROOF centers on Catherine, a young woman who has spent years caring for her father, Robert, a professor at the University of Chicago, who was a brilliant mathematician in his younger years. As he passed forty, he lost his acuity. He wrote continually, but the material was irrational. After he dies, Hal, a former student, probes into Robert's ramblings with the hope of finding something worth publishing, thus pushing ahead Hal's stalled career. With Catherine's help, Hal discovers a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers in Robert's office. He assumes it was his mentor's work. Catherine claims the proof was conceived by her. Hal questions this conclusion, doubting that a woman with little in-depth knowledge of mathematics could create such brilliance. His reaction not only seemingly ends their relationship, but brings front-and-center Catherine's fear of following in her father's footsteps--mathematical genius and mentally ill.
It's interesting that the author attended the University of Chicago where he studied political philosophy, not mathematics. In reality, it matters little as there is no actual inclusion of mathematical concepts. This should relieve those who fear the show because it might be too abstract and technical.
The Lakeland production, under the razor focused direction of Martin Friedman, wrings clear meaning from the script. This may well be the finest of the four productions of this play that I've seen.
Mitchell Fields makes Robert a living being. He slips into Robert's skin and becomes the mathematician/professor. Elizabeth Conway makes Catherine, his youngest daughter, a compassionate, troubled woman. This is not just a performance. Conway transforms Catherine into a real multi-faceted woman. Her disheveled hair, which is accompanied by erratic finger combing, parallels her troubled mind, but she displays rationality, when her hair is coiffed. It's a wonderful stage device to allow for audience clarity.
Aron Elersich, as Hal, the young mathematician, develops a clear character, even drumming his fingers on his legs and beer bottle to represent his alter drummer ego. Laurel Hoffman, as Catherine's older sister, clearly develops her character, and completes a picture-perfect cast.
Keith Nagy's backyard set, complete with mathematical formulas on the fences, is realistic and makes for an excellent blank canvas for Friedman to paint the script's pictures.
Capsule judgement: What happens when you combine a perfectly perceived script, which tells a meaningful story, and a gets masterfully staged show? You get Lakeland Theatre's PROOF. This is a production everyone interested in a good story and a great production must see!