The powerful The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Proof takes us into the complex world of mathematics and mental illness, where the combinations are alarmingly similar in the way that the genius of poetry and numbers intertwine. David Auburn’s scintillating story, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, fully invests you in the drama’s rapidly building conflict as the characters struggle to comprehend the grey areas of loyalty, love and rationality, and how they deal with mountains of emotional turmoil that are, at times, too burdensome for them to handle.
The play takes place in Chicago, Illinois, circa September 1985 and January 1991. Brilliantly directed by Susan Devine, she effectively establishes the emotional tone in the opening scene as Catherine (Anna Fagan) and her father, Robert (Chuck Leonard), a mathematical genius who is mentally ill, celebrate her birthday in the backyard of the family’s modest home. Catherine and Robert’s love of mathematics explains the symmetry of their relationship, but the underlying tone that Robert is not always lucid is a constant theme that hammers away at even simple conversations, like what to make for dinner. The chemistry between Fagan and Leonard is evident from their early scenes and makes their relationship very convincing right from the start.
Judging by the family’s lack of concern for material things, the home’s shoddy appearance is accomplished by Set Designer Dan Remmers, who captures the essence with minimalism and run-down effects. Costume Designer Hadley Armstrong capitalizes the preppy collegial dress, which is in direct contrast to the power suits of the timeframe.
Lighting is very crucial as Franklin C. Coleman is very crucial to a surprising plot point and establishes important transitions, while sound effects by David Correia lend dramatic footing to the high and ebbing moments of the actors’ portrayals, with effective mathematical sound bites resonating between scenes.
As Catherine, Fagan gives a very convincing portrayal of a mid-20’s young woman who, like her father, is gifted with mathematical abilities. As Robert, Leonard gives an multi-layered and convincing performance that explores the complexities of mental illness, where he absolutely shines during moments of elation as he finds purpose in working again, as well as fluctuating moments where he supports Catherine’s return to college, and also when he challenges her choices.
Adding to Catherine’s angst on the day she is burying her father is the appearance of Hal (Josh Goldman), one of Robert’s graduate students at the University of Chicago. Goldman’s character is on target as the nerdy but cute math guy who searches through Robert’s work in order to save it. He also feigns being cool to Catherine by playing in a band, but who also struggles with his own intellectual peak against Catherine’s fierce independence and intelligence.
Catherine’s sister, Claire (Elizabeth Keith) arrives from New York for the funeral as a well-heeled, properly dressed daughter who purposely distanced herself from her father but who has supported Catherine financially. Keith is convincing as the well- meaning but opinionated sister.
The talented Little Theater of Alexandria cast does a wonderful job of exploring the complex subjects of mathematics and mental illness, and through the intensity of each character’s portrayal, the actors truly own their parts. But what the play accomplishes the most is giving the audience a true appreciation of the struggles and the triumphs of the human psyche, as the characters navigate the precarious but joyful path we call: life.
This unforgettable production of Proof is proof once again that The Little Theatre of Alexandria has successfully continued its tradition of producing top-notch and moving theatre. Don’t miss it!
Running time 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.