By Tyler Prah
When presented with an unconventional space, innovation is dire to tailor a show to the environment. Fortunately, Pittsburgh Classic Players handles this task with ease, converting a barren community center room into a homely depiction of a back porch through outdoor furniture and hanging glass for a window. Furthermore, the lighting and electrical work by Madeline Barber is nothing short of inspirational. Wiring ten small LED outdoor flood lights into the building’s power supply to create a dimmable set of remote control instruments not only fits the scale of the scenic design and setting of the production, but is incredibly clever. It is always a joy to witness tiny triumphs that carry tremendous impacts.
Proof centers around Catherine (Harper York), the daughter of a brilliant mathematician who is approaching her 25th birthday in the wake of her father’s funeral. Following years of personal sacrifice to care for her deteriorating father who had slipped into insanity, she is rejoined by her sister Claire (Alison Weisgall) who wants to uproot Catherine and move her to New York in the fear that she will suffer the same fate as her father. Added to the mix is a former student of their father, Hal (Christopher Cattell), determined to parse through old notebooks in the hope of discovering something new for the field of mathematics. When a romance blooms between Catherine and Hal and she discloses a notebook containing a revolutionary mathematical proof, can she be trusted after claims of authorship?
The intimate space (in which the audience is only a mere five feet away from the action unfolding before them) is quite acoustically live, filling easily with the vocal cascades of the actors, ranging from sweet and flowing declarations to pungent bullets fired between characters. At the helm of this action is Harper York (Catherine). Her liveliness and passion is easy to see within her portrayal. Of particular note, York excels at bringing out a unique aspect of Catherine: her familial tie with mental illness. Walking a fine line as she teetered on the brink of insanity, York cleanly delivered during these moments, building suspense toward the nature of her mental state and potential ownership of the proof. Something that pulled me away from York’s performance however were the mannerisms and physicalizations she chose to imbue (or perhaps failed to consider). The dastardly dilemma of what to do with your hands is the bane of many actors and I felt distracted at several points by York’s switch between harsh and imprecise accentuations with her hands (particularly when delivering longer passages of text out toward the audience).
Another point to acknowledge is the dynamic between York and David Maslow (who plays Robert, Catherine’s mathematically brilliant father). On their own, both actors capture the spirit of the characters, yet the magic is lost during a large portion of their interactions (which is unfortunate as most of Maslow’s character only interacts with Catherine). I had not noticed this distinctly until seeing Maslow’s exchanges with Cattell (Hal). For both Maslow and Cattell, never did I doubt their roles of teacher and student. (The casting choice of Cattell in particular was a perfect decision by director Jonathan Visser as he skillfully mixes a logical viewpoint of the world around him with a charmingly nerdy exterior). Alas, when it came to Maslow and York, something felt incomplete. Despite a prominent focus being placed on Catherine’s role as a caretaker for her father, I never felt the relationship between the two characters to be anything more, even during Robert’s lucid moments which was slightly upsetting to see.
With final regard to the acting, Alison Weisgall (Claire) brings a breath of authenticity to the production. While this next statement could be perceived negatively, I intend it in the best way possible when I say that she blended into the background. It’s no difficult task to see the talent she exudes in her supporting role. Weisgall became one with the environment and the world of the play, a given constant which to me was never questioned. It is truly rare to see an actor “fit” precisely into not only the role, but the play itself like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and I applaud her work.
Proof inadvertently fostered a mild existential crisis while watching to which I credit playwright David Auburn’s text and Pittsburgh Classic Player’s raw portrayal. With my own birthday rapidly clawing forward, it was all too easy to fall into a rabbit-hole of introspective considerations. What have I accomplished? Will I live to be the best version of myself or will I fall victim to my own deficiencies? And while the conclusion of this dilemma as a fragment of a broader and overarching consideration will usher me into the next chapter of my life and perhaps be humorous in retrospect, the initial feelings cannot be dismissed as anything other than honest and significant. All too easy is the act of circumventing the issues of others by weighing ours against theirs. By believing they are lying. By being too quick to judge. If anything, Proof pleads viewers to recognize and utilize the core elements of our humanity, especially our capacity to listen and empathize, something that is often juxtaposed by our logical thinking. Sometimes we need to step back to clearly see the whole picture and to consider the facts, whether it is in a mathematical proof, an argument we have with a loved one, or even a theatrical show.
Proof continues its run at the Spartan Community Center of Hazelwood March 21-23 and 28-30 (with an industry night March 25). All shows are at 8 PM. For ticket information, visit their site.
A native to the Pittsburgh area, Tyler Prah is a singer, actor, lighting designer, and lover of science. He is a graduate from the University of Pittsburgh where he triple majored in psychology, neuroscience, and theatre arts. Currently, he works as a high school science teacher and is hoping to go for a doctorate in either medicine or clinical psychology after some time spent pursuing acting.
Categories: Archived Reviews