Sacramento, CA 95815
Placed in the right hands, David Auburn’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning play Proof is a riveting, thought-provoking look at math and madness, genes and genius, family and faith, and verification and trust. Luckily, it’s landed in the hands of the Big Idea Theatre, which is emerging as one of the most solid and intriguing community theater groups in town.
As demonstrated by its 2010 season, Big Idea runs the gamut from David Mamet to Shakespeare, showcasing strong play selection, direction and acting. All three strengths come together in Proof, with two of the leads being Big Idea regulars (Jessica Berkey and Justin Muñoz) and two relative company newbies (Patrick Murphy was in Big Idea’s Dancing at Lughnasa and Kassandra Douglas in her Big Idea debut), all under the skillful direction of Big Idea’s managing director Shannon Mahoney.
Proof focuses on Catherine (Berkey), the young, angry, overwhelmed caretaker of her dad Robert (Murphy), a demented former math genius. Flitting in and out are sister Claire (Douglas) and grad student protégé Hal (Muñoz). What centers them and pulls them apart are the death of Dad (this isn’t a spoiler, since Dad still appears throughout the play) and the discovery of a notebook containing a groundbreaking proof about prime numbers.
There’s the importance of the play’s title—this is about proving the authorship of the proof, which will change everyone’s life. In the process, the two daughters and the protégé will have to face their own issues: trust, control, reliability, credibility and mental stability. Stirred in the mix is the questionable emotional stability of Catherine, and Hal’s romantic interest in his math mentor’s daughter. It’s a wonderful and intellectually captivating blend of mystery, intrigue, romance and rivalry.
In Proof, cast and direction are key, and this production delivers both. Berkey is mesmerizing as the beaten-down, wounded, confused and tenacious Catherine, pulling the audience into her world, while at the same time allowing us to doubt her validity. Muñoz adds chemistry to the math—a winning performance that is both sweet and suspect. Murphy delicately portrays the heartbreaking blend of genius, dementia and unreliability. And Douglas is the centering sanity, both likable and unlikable at the same time.
Mahoney is wise to keep the performances tight, allowing a perfect mix of pathos, empathy, sympathy and doubt. You need breathing room in this play, and Mahoney keeps the correct oxygen level going—sometimes allowing silence and pauses, other times keeping the energy at high-octane. The porch scene set is both simple and romantic, and captures why home seems like both a prison and a cocoon to Catherine.
Proof provides the audience with a first-half cliffhanger and a satisfying climax, as well as subject matter for an after-theater discussion; Big Idea Theatre’s production of it provides testament to their talent in the local theater community.