WEDNESDAY, FEB. 15: Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Proof was probably the most entertaining show of the Festival for me and I’ve been to the majority of performances this year.
Granted, theatre is a favourite art form of mine but this was moving, intense, funny and packed with sharp dialogue. What’s more, the clever plot kept you guessing until the end.
The acting, especially by lead characters Alex Keiper and Bill Van Horn, was outstanding — about as convincing as you can get.
The play began with a 25-year-old girl drinking champagne on her own on her birthday and we knew something was not right from the beginning.
The play explores the blurred line between intellectual excellence and mental illness. It tells the story of Catherine (Keiper) whose father Robert (Van Horn), a Math professor at Chicago University and one-time genius, suffers a mental breakdown. Catherine, herself a student of math, drops out of college to care for her father who tragically dies before her 25th birthday.
She begins to show signs of depression herself while dealing with the return of her sister Claire and the affections of Hal (David Raphaely) — a former student of Robert who is intent on proving his mentor’s genius.
Hal trawls through piles of notebooks searching for the evidence until he finds one striking mathematical proof.
The ultimate problem though, is proving whether it really was Robert’s finding as Catherine claims it as her own.
While her sister Claire (Krista Apple) believes she has some of the brilliance of their father, she does believe that she is also touched by his madness. Hal is also out to prove Catherine wrong.
The plot is challenging because we are forced to question the sincerity of two of the central characters — Catherine and Hal. It’s hard to do, especially with Catherine who we are lead to develop great sympathy for.
What’s more the relationship between her and her father is so close and warming it’s hard to accept she would do him any wrong.
Raphaely as Hal could be a little mechanical at times in his acting — but that might have been intentional in the portrayal of a math geek.
However, he was full of enthusiasm for the role and kept the stage lively with his youthful energy.
Krista Apple as Catherine’s big sister Claire brought light relief and laughter to the play. She was a caricature of the buttoned-down, over concerned big sister who doesn’t understand her little sister.
The two couldn’t be more different and Catherine’s dead-pan fun making was bitterly executed.
The contrast of Catherine’s hardened attitude with her sister’s pomposity provided much entertainment.
The set was just the front porch of a house throughout which was disappointing for a production company whose annual budget is said to be $14million.
It wouldn’t have even taken much to have a divider of some sort to create at least one other set to switch it up.
However, content is King. The play offers a real insight into the brain of a genius and how easily it can switch over to insanity.
This delicate balance is best demonstrated by Robert’s intense monologues, at one point he talks about how he can entertain himself for hours by “finding problems in a pile of leaves” — a believable thing for a mathematician to do but then he divulges how he “listens to the messages” from them and we are back to square one.
The play is full of frustrations in this way but an honest depiction of such tragedies.