LIVE: “Proof” @ Albany Civic Theater

Proof @ Albany Civic Theatre (photo by Tom Killips)
(photo by Tom Killips)

Let X = stunning…

Mathematics wouldn’t seem to be a particularly intriguing or dramatic subject for an evening in the theater. But that didn’t stop playwright David Auburn, and the proof is in “Proof,” his intimate and intense, four-character drama, which earned him both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitizer Prize for Drama in 2001.

And the production of “Proof” currently on the boards at Albany Civic Theater is as good as it gets. It isn’t just good community theater; it’s damn fine theater period.

Under the deft direction of Aaron Holbritter, the four actors peel back the layers to reveal that, of course, “Proof’ isn’t about math at all. At its heart, it’s really a play about family relationships, obligations and responsibility. And there’s no easy equation to explain how that works.

The play is set in Chicago, where Robert (Gary Maggio), a former mathematical genius who descended into mental illness, has recently died. His daughter Catherine (Shannon Whalen), who stayed at home to care for her father during his final years, is suffering from depression and the fear that her may have inherited her father’s illness along with his mathematical talent. Robert’s other daughter Claire (Joanna Palladino) arrives for the funeral in hopes of coaxing Catherine to NYC, so she can keep an eye on her in case her mental health slips away. Meanwhile, one of Robert’s former students, Hal (Ian LaChance), attempts to form a tentative relationship with the emotionally shut-down Catherine, while he rummages through the hundreds of notebooks that Robert left behind.

The action takes place onstage amid a brilliant single set design by Rich Montena, and director Holbritter makes the most of it with blocking that pulls the actors apart from each other and then inches them back together.

And the acting is simply sublime. If ever there was an argument to be made in saving UAlbany’s soon-to-be-extinct theater department, it’s Shannon Whalen, a recent UAlbany grad, whose marvelously shaded and nuanced performance at the center of the play is her first major role. This is a young woman with a very bright future. And Maggio – an early-’70s UAlbany theater alum – is pitch-perfect, never playing “crazy,” but capturing all of the heartbreak and frustration of the downhill slide from genius to madness.

As Hal, the interloper in the family drama, LaChance manages to bring out the humor without undercutting the depth of character. And in the play’s most difficult role, Palladino shows us the heart beneath an unlikable character who could easily end up one-dimensional. She goes over the top with her hangover scene, but then she reigns in back in, bringing genuine emotional fire to her big showdown with Catherine.

“Proof” is a great piece of contemporary drama, and the wonderful production at Albany Civic Theater is every bit as good.

“Proof” continues its run at Albany Civic Theater at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3pm on Sundays through February 27. Tickets are $15; students $10.

Bob Goepfert’s review at The Troy Record
Michael Eck’s review @ The Times Union
Excerpt from Matthew G. Moross’ review at The Daily Gazette: “Auburn’s play is a modern mathematical masterstroke, and the production staged by director Aaron Holbritter at Albany Civic Theater this month is showing it off to its best advantage. ‘Proof’ is a relative rarity, a scientifically based play exploring the very close relationship between madness and genius, family and responsibility, and opportunity and action. And it does so lucidly. Fellow playwrights Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter wade the waters of the smart and art, but often wallow in subtext, leaving the audience grasping for Cliff Notes to follow what happens after the curtain rises. Auburn does not pander to the scholastic or play too long in the pedantic. His conflicts are neat and clean. This play is shaded with subtext, allowing the problems to be poised, the shadows explored with true hope of finding answers, without turning to the answer key at the back of the workbook.”

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