You might think that a play which features depression and other forms of mental illness, incomprehensible mathematics and further oddities of the academic life, might be of little interest to the average theatre-goer. But the opening night of Proof at the Langham Court Theatre showed the opposite to be true.
Robert, a genius in his youth but mentally damaged in later life, has just died. His daughter Catherine has spent her youth taking care of him, at the expense of her education, friends and a normal existence. When the play opens she is in sloppy sweat pants, drinking champagne (a birthday gift from her father’s ghost – don’t ask!) from the bottle. In the house are a hundred-plus notebooks of her father’s. Enter Hal, one of Robert’s adoring acolytes, who plans to go through them to determine if they contain any brilliant, unpublished work. The remaining character is Claire, Catherine’s sister, who blows in to Chicago from New York, determined to sell the house and take Catherine back with her.
Melissa Taylor tackles the difficult and ambivalent character of Catherine; her competent handling of the role was somewhat marred on the first night by the fact that several of her lines were inaudible. Langham Court is a small venue, but either speak up folks, or use ear microphones!
The smart, sassy sister is played by Melissa Blank, who does a good job being efficient and frustrated at the same time. Jon Scheer’s role as the crazy professor is fairly minor, but he does have some very good lines, such as when he tells Hal, his eager PhD candidate, “Soon, you’ll be teaching younger, more irritating versions of yourself.”
Hal has a meaty role – desperately trying to be as clever as his mentor and knowing he can never measure up; needing the obtain the notebooks while at the same not offending Catherine, with whom a relationship is beginning to develop. Liam McDonald is a great mixture of the ardent academic, and the hesitant lover. His body language as he blunders his way in and out of the house is expressive.
Kudos to set-designer Dick Newson for a great depiction of the run-down house and verandah. An additional touch might have been a light shining from the attic, where Robert had worked and where Hal now pursues his dream. Carol-Anne Moore’s lighting, which includes a fade-out collage of numbers and mathematical symbols, is quite inspired.
Any play with dead characters must be difficult to direct, and it has to be admitted that the portions of this one, where Robert is either alive or in spirit form are hard to differentiate. So sometimes it is not easy to know where we are time-wise.
But these are very small quibbles in a play which is well done, and surprisingly compelling.
Proof runs at the Langham Court Theatre until June 24.
For tickets call 250-384-2142.