Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Nora Theatre Company Presents "Proof" by David Auburn - A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production - Through February 18 - A Formula For Success

One of the many things I like about the ongoing Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT partnership between the university and Nora Theatre Company is that, as an audience member, I am required to use both hemispheres of my brain to fully access the message being presented in the play. Dramatic pieces are chosen by the merits of their intersection of art and science. Such is the case with the very satisfying production of "Proof" by David Auburn. The writing is brilliantly nuanced and multi-layered, with each character representing a complex equation with many factorials and few constants. They are a family of accomplished mathematicians - widowed father and two grown daughters. Throw in an ambitious graduate assistant as an x factor whose intentions are ambiguous, at best, and the audience is on the edge of their seats waiting to see if these are simultaneous equations that can be solved successfully.

Director Michelle M. Aguillon has assembled a gifted creative team. The impressive set by Janie E. Howland has created a humble single family home near the campus of the University of Chicago, where the father teaches when he is not incapacitated with mental illness. Both the humble home and the pater familias are in bad repair, both having lost some shingles off the roof. Much of the action takes place on the backporch and in the back yard. Costumes, including some lovely Asian robes, are by Leslie Held. Lighting is by Allison Schneider, Sound by Grant Furgiuele.

Ms. Aguillon and the playwright have the quadratic cast interacting in intriguing ways - sometimes drawing toward one another, and at other times, drawing away. They are:
  • Michael Tow is the father, Robert. The action of the play goes back and forth between present time and past, so even though he has died, he is much in evidence. Mr. Tow plays Robert as a very regulated and self-contained Asian man, emotionally distant from younger daughter, Catherine, who has sacrificed several years of her young life to care for him during his years of mental illness.
  • Lisa Nguyen is Catherine. Hers is an impressive and award-worthy performance as she struggles with wondering how much of her father's proclivity to mathematical genius she may have inherited. She also fears that she is also susceptible to the family mental illness propensity. She has a complex relationship with her older sister, Claire, as well as with her father's graduate assistant, Hal.
  • Cheryl Daro is Claire,who has fled Chicago for New York where she works as a currency analyst. She is engaged to be married, but feels a sense of responsibility to provide care and structure for Catherine, whom she considers unstable and possibly also mentally ill. Claire is unemotional and frigid in her interactions, until she gets hammered at the party following the father's funeral.
  • Avery Bargar is excellent as Hal, who appears to care for Catherine, but also wants things from her. Are his motives positive and honorable?
The title, "Proof," is brilliant. One the one hand, it refers to an arcane math proof that both Robert and Catherine have been working on. When a notebook surfaces that purports to show a solution to this difficult problem, there are doubts about who penned the solution. So, in a sense, each of the four characters find themselves in a situation of having to "prove" themselves to one another - and sometimes to themselves. The plot twists are brilliant and well timed. The acting is uniformly effective.

This play is thoroughly engaging at every level. It is a formula for success. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, there are moments of hilarity. You will not want to miss this excellent drama. This production will run at Central Square Theater through February 18.  Get your tickets now. Last evening's house was completely full. Calculate just when you can make the trip, and make the call.

Central Square Theater Website



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