Theatre Review: “Proof” at Theatre on the Square

Late last Sunday afternoon I drove to Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indy to catch the 5:00 showing of “Proof” at Theatre on the Square.  It was…oh-my-GOODNESS wonderful.

This Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning drama was written by David Auburn.  Julianne Inskeep directed it here at TOTS, assisted by William Skaggs.  The technical director was James Trofatter.

The production elements in this show are beautiful and the acting is superb.  I forgot that I had seen all of these actors in other shows.  I forgot even that they were actors at all.  I laughed a lot throughout the show, but I cried from down in my belly during the last two or three scenes.

The play opens with Catherine (Aarya Sara Locker) and her father, Robert (Ron Spencer) celebrating her 25th birthday on the back deck of their home in Chicago.  In that first scene we learn that Robert died the week before.  Catherine’s pushy sister, Claire (Cindy Phillips), is due in from New York for the funeral. 

We also learn pretty quickly that Robert was a genius mathematician and that he was also mentally unstable for many years.  Catherine, a would-be mathematician, gave up her own college education to care for him.  One of his former grad students, Hal (Matthew Roland), is upstairs now, going through his papers.  There are more than a hundred composition books filled with Robert’s gibberish, but maybe one of them holds more of his brilliance as well.  Maybe one of them holds a new mathematical proof.

As the play unfolds, we begin to realize that many kinds of “proof” are important.

Grief, love, desire, envy, fear, courage…there are lots of strong emotions in this play, but the actors evoke all of them with such subtlety and skill! 

I particularly admired Matthew Roland’s specificity. In his portrayal of the geeky, endearing Hal, his gestures and facial expressions seemed very natural, yet also very crisply delineated, the details perfectly chosen. 

And I loved Locker’s nuanced portrayal of Catherine’s inner struggles.  Her facial expressions conveyed a wealth of information in response to the other characters, yet also seemed very natural.  She moved her whole body fluidly or tensely or passionately in ways that perfectly communicated what her character was saying or hearing or feeling.

Phillips, too, impressed me with her seamlessly layered portrayal of the bossy sister.  Claire could easily have been a one-dimensional meanie, but Phillips showed her complexity – e.g., her vulnerability as well as her drive.  Phillips made me feel sympathy for Claire in spite of myself.

And Spencer, who was actually not on stage very much, conveyed volumes about Robert’s wide range of emotions and his widely varying levels of mental stability.

Oh, the acting in this show is just a treat!  Director Inskeep brought the best out of already excellent artists and blended their strengths into a completely satisfying whole.

And, as I said before, the production elements are exceptionally pleasurable, too. 

The set, designed by James Trofatter and Ron Spencer, lit by Kevin Brown, and decorated by Julianne Inskeep, looks and feels just like a college professor’s back porch.  The lighting implies that there are mature trees nearby.  There is a dusty grill and a pile of garden hose in one corner.  The furniture looks comfortably lived-in: two wooden Adirondack chairs, a small round table with two other chairs for enjoying breakfast outside, a wooden bench against the brick wall of the house.  I meant to go up to the set after the show and touch those brick walls: they looked so real!  Surely the set construction people (Aaron Brown, Therese Burns, Tony Longoria, James Trofatter, Ryan Powell, Ed Mobley, and Ron Spencer) did not actually cement real bricks into place!  But that is what it looks like, even in the intimate TOTS Stage Two space.

The special effect when Robert exits in the first scene is a nice touch.

Ron Spencer’s sound design is an exquisite combination of classical, classic (“O Holy Night” was part of the pre-show music) and New Age-y instrumental pieces.  It gave me a feeling of peace tinged with melancholy and then hope and even joy, as the play progressed through several scene changes.   The crowd noises during the funeral and several other sound effects are just right, too. 

And speaking of scene changes, there are several, with some challenging removal and/or placement of props, but they happen smoothly and quickly.  William Skaggs is the stage manager.  Diane McGuire is in charge of properties. 

“Eclectics” did the costumes.  They, too, are subtly and perfectly chosen.  I especially loved the pastel pink sweater on the younger, happier Catherine.

The show is in two acts, with an intermission.  You may buy sodas and candy in the lobby and take them into the theatre.  TOTS’ second stage is arranged cabaret-style.  Seating is first come, first served, so get there early if you have a preference for barstool or chair.  Metered parking is usually available on the street.  It is free in the evenings and on weekends.

“Proof” runs through March 15.  Please call 317-635-TOTS for more info or to make a reservation.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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