Nevertheless, she persisted.
Persisted, pushed back depression and doubt and the burden of care to accept her legacy of genius.
The “she” in this case is not Senator Elizabeth Warren but Catherine (Dawn Ursula), a young Chicago woman overwhelmed by life and her prodigious brain and the tough, fragile and funny heroine of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof.
Director Timothy Douglas has brought a small, glowing gem of a production to Olney Theatre Center with every aspect as perfect and elegant as an equation—the impeccable ensemble cast; Luciana Stecconi’s spare, weathered wood set that features a graph paper back wall scribbled with calculations and mathematical symbols that hint at a rarefied language known only to a special few; Kendra Rai’s costumes that either cocoon the characters or reveal their inner selves, poetic lighting by Mike Durst and evocative music by Matthew M. Neilson.
Proof is a cerebral play about beautiful minds touched by genius and madness. But it is not confined to neck-up intellectual exercises and it is equally about familial love and duty, trying to know the unknowable, and issues of trust.
The college-age Catherine has sacrificed her studies to care for her father Robert (Craig Wallace), a genius mathematical professor at the University of Chicago suffering from mental illness. Catherine appears too comfortable in this hermetic existence that confines her life to Robert’s aging house near the campus and unending caretaking.
Catherine may be more her father’s daughter than she would like. She rapturously speaks of mathematical proofs that flow like music but she also fears she may go “bughouse” the same way her father did.
In Wallace’s nuanced, masterful performance, we glimpse Robert in full possession of his powers (he calls his brain “the mechanics”) bantering on the back porch with adorkable PhD candidate Hal (an affable and endearing Biko Eisen-Martin), who is sweet on Catherine. We also see Robert confused, frail and roaring like King Lear, particularly in one staggering scene where he is outside in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt in a Chicago winter ranting to a parka-clad Catherine about his new work contained in a handful of precious notebooks.
closes June 18, 2017
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Ursula is brilliant in this scene (and others), moving from resolve to get her father indoors and despair over his mental state to the swift, vulnerable hope that his genius spark may have returned. When Robert angrily demands she read from one of the notebooks and as she obeys disappointment, love and fear play across the planes of her face.
It’s a beautiful moment in a staging rich with them. The role of Catherine’s hyper-capable older sister Claire is usually played as an uncompromising hardliner—the yin to troubled Catherine’s yang. But Aakhu TuahNera Freeman brings sympathy, warmth and balance to Claire; someone generous and caring instead of just meddlesome.
The program notes for Olney’s production talk about how persistence in the face of adversity or rejection is a trait of creative genius. Catherine luminously embodies this kind of persistence—not only in her secret determination to prove she’s worthy of her father’s inheritance and maybe even surpass it, but also in the dogged, crazy way she assumes the mantle of care.
Proof by David Auburn . Director:Timothy Douglas . Featuring Biko Eisen-Martin, Aakhu TuahNera Freeman, Dawn Ursula, Craig Wallace. Scenic Designer: Luciana Stecconi. Costume Designer: Kendra Rai. Lighting Designer: Mike Durst. Sound Designer/Original Music: Matthew M. Neilson. Production Stage Manager: C. Renee Alexander. Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.