Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Palm Beach DramaWorks: Proof (6 reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks opened their production of David Auburn's Proof on May 25th, 2012.
In this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama, the daughter of a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance: his insanity.
William Hayes directed a cast that featured Cliff Burgess, Kenneth Kay, Katherine Michelle Tanner, and Sarah Grace Wilson.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
As virtually everyone who has ever produced the play has taken pains to point out, David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winner Proof is about mathematics, but it takes no particular understanding of that subject to enjoy this family drama.  It does help if you appreciate good writing and performances, which the Palm Beach Dramaworks production has in abundance.
Director William Hayes delivers it with simplicity and clarity, drawing first-rate work from his four cast members.
Katherine Michelle Tanner (Catherine) anchors the production as the moody, possible math genius, as tentative as stylish Sarah Grace Wilson (Claire) is assured. Kenneth Kay impresses as Robert, particularly in a flashback where his mind has gone unhinged, and Cliff Burgess earns prominence for outsider Hal, with both the character’s numerous comic lines and his unexpected tender side.
John Thomason wrote for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
In the play's smart and classy production at Dramaworks, Michael Amico's back-porch set — imbued with depth and dimension, like most of the theater's recent productions — is framed on both sides by pillars of chalkboard equations, scrawled and sprawled like some kind of visionary code waiting to be cracked.
Like Jake Gyllenhaal's Hal in the movie, Burgess cuts an awfully dashing math nerd, but he performs the part with a navel-gazing awkwardness that better reveals the character's insecure core. Tanner and Sarah Grace Wilson as Catherine's sister Claire are perfectly cast yin-and-yang siblings, easily matching Gwyneth Paltrow's and Hope Davis' film contributions. And Kenneth Kay, who appears in dreams and flashbacks as Catherine's father, is a professorial and subtly towering figure lording over Catherine from beyond the grave; his performance makes Anthony Hopkins' film version just a distant memory.
Proof is not a flashy play, like the Tony Award-winning Red, about artist Mark Rothko, or the kind of play that requires a physical transformation of an actor, like the Donald Marguiles play Time Stands Still, in which the protagonist is injured by a roadside bomb. I counted just one dramatic eruption of emotion in its two hours, paced by director Bill Hayes with engrossing briskness. The play's well-earned Pulitzer Prize is a result of nuance, not ostentation, and Dramaworks' low-key interpretation makes sure every meditation on madness and genius, trust and faith, and class and kin comes across with the elegance of a perfect proof.
Darrell Hofheinz reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
In a play that’s all about proof, there’s plenty of doubt to go around.  And that’s a good thing for audiences at Palm Beach Dramaworks, where playwright David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof is on view in a taut, nuanced production marked by memorable performances from its four actors.
As the play begins, Catherine is clearly depressed. We eventually learn why, via her interactions with others as well as a series of extended flashbacks that are handled seamlessly, thanks in great part to Katherine Michelle Tanner’s adroit transformations as Catherine. Director William Hayes, who is also the theater’s producing artistic director, does his part, too, building dramatic momentum as surely as a mathematician works through an intricate problem.
As effective as Tanner is, she is matched in Sarah Grace Wilson’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the older sister, Claire...
As the father, Robert, Kenneth Kay delivers a deceptively quiet performance that builds steam until his tour-de-force second-act encounter with a home-from-college Catherine.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Human relationships are unpredictable, tricky to decipher and very difficult to correct.  Such is one of the underlying themes of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof, enjoying a solid production at Palm Beach Dramaworks.
Director William Hayes is not a showy director. His theater is about serving the playwright more than indulging in theatrical pyrotechnics. This nearly invisible technique, and there certainly is technique at work here, results in a persuasive naturalism that allows the audience a clear view of Auburn’s themes, relationships and plot gyrations.
Like many of Dramaworks’ productions, this is another impressive night of theater that makes you think.
Tanner is an experienced actress from northwest Florida (perhaps a few years well past Catherine’s 25) who has exuded hidden fragility in local performances such as Laura in New Theatre’s The Glass Menagerie. It’s a significant asset in making Catherine a sympathetic protagonist despite her isolating stoicism and reflexive rejection of any perceived attempt to curb her sovereignty. Her fear of inheriting her father’s mental curse and the human contact that might confirm it resides just behind those deer-in-the-headlights eyes, occasionally covered by a lock of hair that the preoccupied Catherine can’t be bothered to tie up. It’s a solid, nuanced performance.
It’s terrific to have Kay back after his sojourn running a theater in North Carolina... Quietly but convincingly, without a shred of caricature, Kay gives us a three-dimensional character who seems as normal as the guy you borrowed the lawnmower from.
Wilson, who was in Dramaworks’ Dinner with Friends, has the thankless role of the woman who would be the villain of the piece if Auburn wrote black and white characters. However, Wilson succeeds in making it clear that Claire loves her sister and wants to rescue her, even if her hyper-efficient, brisk lifestyle is anathema to Catherine’s soul.
Burgess, who was so good as the angry prodigal in All My Sons early in Dramaworks’ season, creates a delightfully inept young man obsessed with the magic of his chosen vocation. But as Auburn wanted, Burgess’ Hal is not some dweeb from The Big Bang Theory, but a believable academic.
This is some of Hayes’ best work. Although it’s invisible to non-practitioners, Hayes’ labors are those of a craftsman like a fine cabinet maker. He has uncovered most of Auburn’s meanings, excavated them out of the souls of the cast and physically staged the chess pieces to further illustrate the relationships, such as the sisters sitting as far as they can from each other on a settee/glider... He has led his cast to create people not just uncomfortable in their own skins, but even more uncomfortable with each other. In his vision, these people are feeling their way around in the dark, well-meaning, but bruising each other whenever they attempt human interaction.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...Proof begins working its magic even before the house lights go down. Set designer Michael Amico inaugurated the space with a richly detailed, period-perfect house and backyard for Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. For Proof, he has created another, smaller home whose details suggest an orderliness that eludes its suffering owner.
Surprises are carefully laced throughout the script, and if you’ve never seen Proof, you deserve to experience them in the moment. What can be said is that Auburn artfully explores the toll that Robert’s mental instability takes on his younger daughter Catherine...
Under Hayes’ guidance, the Dramaworks cast delivers a Proof with slightly softer edges than actors sometimes bring to the piece. Tanner doesn’t seem so much like a girl teetering on the edge of a possible breakdown; instead, she’s a young woman worn down by dreams and possibilities that are routinely dashed. Kay’s charming Robert exudes professorial command and charm, which makes a critical scene later in the play all the more chilling. Burgess is an affable Hal, maybe not quite as baldly ambitious as the character can be, but a math geek version of a knight in shining armor. Wilson’s fussy, prickly Claire is the just-right embodiment of a control freak who can’t cope with human unpredictability.

Michelle F. Solomon wrote something she's passing off as a review for miamiartzine:
The Dramaworks production has many highlights, chief among them not a bad seat in the house in the new theater, which celebrates its inaugural with Proof as its final season offering. It’s just a pleasure of a space. 

With that said, Proof does present obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest behemoths is its set... playwright Auburn forces his characters to convene on the porch for every scene, casual or dramatic. For a play that is supposed to be dealing with so much gritty reality happening in one family, the one-stop set only serves to weaken the dramatic action.
Actually, Ms. Solomon means the setting, not the set.  The playwright dictates the setting, the production builds the set based on the playwright's descriptions.  That's a critical difference, and one that a theatre critic has no business getting wrong.  And it's the mark of a rank amateur to criticize such choices of setting without offering illustrations of how, exactly, the setting detracts from the playwright's vision.  Auburn wrote a play set on a porch; if you don't like it, write your own damned play.  But unless you can demonstrate specific moments weakened by the setting, STFU.
As Catherine, Tanner has a lot of the play on her shoulders. What’s lacking in her portrayal is the weight the audience should feel of Catherine’s plight. Her biggest fear is that she’s not only inherited her father’s genius, but his madness, yet it’s difficult from Tanner’s presentation to really feel the threat of bordering madness.
Bill Hirschman also made this observation; I feel that both of them are wrong. If she displays symptoms of impending madness, then her fears are completely justified.  But the point is, she's not on the verge of madness, and never was.  It's only her fears, fed by her family. Catherine's problem isn't that she may go mad, but that she's afraid she may go mad.  It was one of of the flaws of the Broadway production, made by each star who play the role.  I haven't seen this production yet, but the thing that has always bothered me in other productions is the profoundly mistaken choice of playing the obvious. It's limited and boring.  I can't wait to see this one.  But first, let's finish going through Ms. Solomon's little article.
Wilson’s overly high-strung portrayal of the uptight financial analyst visiting from New York ups the ante for Tanner, and it produces some of the best moments. Delightful in every scene is Burgess as student-turned-math professor, Hal. His character in this production is the most developed and credit goes to the actor for that. Although the play surrounds the family patriarch, Robert doesn’t have much stage time, but when he’s present, Kay relishes each moment and is a solid foundation for the rest of the cast.

The haze over all of it is Hayes’s direction, which is a bit understated, leaving crucial moments lacking in necessary drama.
Pun intended, Ms. Solomon?  Feh.

Proof plays at Palm Beach Dramaworks through June 17, 2012.


  1. Wait . . . you've not seen the piece and you're critiquing the critics?

  2. I'm reviewing the review. Which I read.

    It is not the job of a critic to tell the artist what they SHOULD have done; only to discuss the merits of what they did. Ms. Solomon can tell us why the choices didn't work, but is completely out of bounds to dictate which choices should have been made.