Review: ‘Proof’ by St. Mark’s Players

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” implies that a child has similar qualities or characteristics as his or her parents. A particular talent may be handed down through the genes, but less beneficial traits may be in the bloodline as well. St. Mark’s Players’ production of Proof, a play written by David Auburn in 2000, and a 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Drama winner, explores family responsibility, the role of caretaker, prejudice, sexism, and self-doubt.

Stuart Fischer as Robert in St. Mark's Players' production of Proof. Photo courtesy of St. Mark's Players.
Stuart Fischer as Robert in St. Mark’s Players’ production of Proof. Photo courtesy of St. Mark’s Players.

Directed by Ryan Mays, Proof opens with a normal everyday scene on the back porch of a family home. The production team Reel Spectacles and Sam Stenecker realize the setting with a simple black backdrop, a doorway, window frame and outdoor patio seating. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church does the rest, the actual structure of the building providing a sense of depth and spaciousness. Lighting Design is by Grace Mitchell.

Robert, the father, played by Stuart Fischer, and daughter Catherine have opened a bottle of cheap champagne on Catherine’s 25th birthday. The layered story travels along what may lie in Catherine’s imagination, recollections from the past, and the relationships between the story’s four characters.

Catherine, played by Sara Joy Lebowitz, is a young woman with promise, eager to pursue her career and her independence. She has inherited the brilliance of her father’s gift as a mathematician, but leaving home and going to university is complicated. She is caring for a father with significant mental illness, and as his caretaker, she has experienced his weakest moments. As a child, she has known his genius. She shares his talent for mathematics but fears the instability she witnesses in herself.

Lebowitz captures the nuance of parent-child exchanges through gestures and intonations that make the words sound like home, an everyday contest between parent and adult daughter. Birth order dynamics color the exchanges with older sister Claire, played by Jessa Whitley-Hill. As the younger of the two siblings, Lebowitz plays the reclusive introspective trying to dig in while bossy gregarious older sister Claire insists on her way.

James Randle plays Hal, a 28-year-old mathematician and former Ph.D. student of Robert’s now poring over his mentor’s old notebooks. Like Catherine, Hal is not confident about his own abilities, and the two already have a history. They orbit around the connection to Robert and identify with mathematics as a career and as a calling. The relationship changes as the two are thrown together under emotional circumstance. Randle brings focused enthusiasm to quiet moments with Lebowitz and then adds an eager physicality. He bounds up steps or backs away to energize the recollection or wherever the story takes us in time.

Hal is a likable guy but beneath his innocence and honesty, there are shadings of doubt. Hal discovers a proof about prime numbers in Robert’s office. Catherine is a woman with a gift in the male-dominated field of mathematics. How can she prove herself? This intimate production by St. Mark’s Players, a participatory community theatre company, brings the questions in Proof forward in a truthful way with compelling actors.

Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Proof plays through January 26, 2019, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 301 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets, call the box office at 202-854-9199, or purchase them online.

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Jane Franklin
Jane Franklin received a MFA from The Ohio State University as a University Fellow and certification from the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies. Jane Franklin’s choreography has been presented at multiple venues and festivals in the mid-Atlantic region and southwestern US and internationally in the UK and in Mexico. A recipient of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region Creative Communities Award, Jane has developed innovative and collaborative projects combining dancers with the round wall skateboarding community, with a life size kinetic sculpture, with the architecture of a specific site, with dogs & owners, and with interactive live video and sound for numerous public art projects.