One of the great things about Off-Off-Broadway is the new and experimental plays that can only be done Off-Off-Broadway. Another great thing is that, if you miss the big Broadway hit this year, you'll be able to catch it Off-Off-Broadway in a few years. Such is the case with Ground Up Productions’ revival of David Auburn’s Proof. Proof was a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner during its Broadway run three years ago, and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film last year (hitting DVD right about … now!).
Ground up Productions gave Proof its first NYC revival, and a great revival it was. The play (for those not in the know) is about Catherine (Kate Middleton), the young daughter of a brilliant mathematician, Robert (Stuart Marshall). Catherine has inherited her father's talent with numbers, but also might have inherited the mental illness that destroyed his mind. As the play begins, the audience learns that Robert has died recently, and Catherine is just about the same age her father was when he started losing his marbles, and she has begun to show signs of what might be the same mental instability. Her saner sister, Claire (Amy Heidt), shows up for the funeral and can’t seem to help noticing Catherine’s odd behavior.
Hal (Guy Olivieri), a former student of Robert’s, enters the picture, as a possible love interest for Catherine, but the plot thickens when Hal finds a brilliant mathematical proof amidst Robert’s cluttered, nonsensical notes. Catherine claims to have written the work herself, but she lacks … well … proof.
The young cast handled the rich story very well. Of course comparisons to the recent film, or the Tony Award-winning Broadway cast, might be made, but Ground Up assembled as good a cast as is likely to be seen in such a tiny venue. Auburn’s script has an excellent balance of the comedic mixed in with a tale of death and loss, so it was quite the challenge for the cast, and they did an admirable job with it.
Production values were surprisingly high. There was not much in the form of flashy costumes, or high-tech lighting and sound, but the set must be mentioned. The show takes place on the back porch of Robert's house, and the set (uncredited) was absolutely top notch for an Off-Off-Broadway production. The stage looked just like the weatherworn back porch of a run-down house, and even had backyard clutter subtly scattered around, like dried leaves, or a garden hose coiled in the corner.
Adam Gerdts’s direction presented the play in a very naturalistic tone. A couple of scenes are dreams/hallucinations, and a director might be tempted to monkey around with them, but Gerdts was obviously devoted to making the characters as real as possible.
This production of Proof was one of those little gems of the New York City theatrical scene. Theatre lovers who missed the Broadway run should keep an eye out, in case Ground Up produces another run of this show.
Copyright 2006 Charles Battersby