Orono Community Theatre is presenting their production of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Proof” at the Cyrus Memorial Pavilion on the University of Maine campus. The show runs through Jan. 26.
Catherine (Jenny Hancock) is a young woman living in Chicago. Her recently-deceased father Robert (Dick Brucher) had been a world-renowned mathematician in his younger days, but as he got older, he fell into a struggle with mental illness – a struggle that Catherine is terrified that she herself will have to wage one day. She has lived with her father and cared for him during his illness, putting her own life – and potential mathematical career – on hold to do so.
Following Robert’s death, one of his former graduate advisees shows up at the house in hopes of putting Robert’s paper in order. Hal (Joel Crabtree) worked with Robert during one of Robert’s last periods of lucidity; he’s looking for some residual evidence of the man’s former greatness. Meanwhile, Catherine’s sister Claire (Hailey Crabtree) is in town to help with her father’s funeral arrangements and – perhaps – return to New York City with her directionless sister in tow.
Most of Robert’s notes are gibberish – the ravings of a broken mind – but hidden away in a locked desk drawer is one notebook that contains a mathematical proof. This proof, if accurate, could wind up redefining one of the greatest mysteries of the discipline. But the bigger question – the question at the core of the play – is who wrote it? Was it one last flash of brilliance from a fading mind? Or an explosive inspiration from the brain of a newly-motivated prodigy?
Was it Robert? Or Catherine?
There’s no disputing the excellence of Auburn’s script – it’s a brilliantly-written piece. However, the success of any specific production rests largely on the shoulders of the cast. While Catherine can certainly be considered the main character, “Proof” is very much an ensemble piece. The cohesiveness of that ensemble is a big key to the show’s effectiveness.
The group assembled by OCT director Sandy Cyrus is a good one. Hancock is a bundle of frenetic energy as Catherine; she does good work in embodying the mental and emotional fragility of the character. Joel Crabtree is all hands-in-pockets awkwardness as Hal. There’s an odd blend of self-consciousness and confidence that the role requires; Crabtree finds a way to embody both sides of the coin. The other Crabtree – Hailey – has a bit of a thankless role as the strident, shrill older sister. Claire is not the sort of character that is easily made likeable, but Crabtree does yeoman’s work in humanizing her. And Dick Brucher is delightful as Robert; through his portrayal, we get to see several facets of the faded genius. We see him both in flashback and as a projection within Catherine’s mind. Brucher helps us see both the brilliance he once possessed and the sad confusion of the mental illness that eventually consumed him.
The Pavilion is a wonderful place to see a show and OCT definitely made it their own. From the well-executed and engaging direction of Cyrus to the simple and effective scenic design of Deb Puhl to the pair of cellists (you read that right) providing incidental music during scenic shifts, “Proof” is a full-bodied theatrical presentation that takes advantage of the many strengths of the people involved and the nuances of the space itself.
In the world of mathematics, one can find solutions by way of truths and constants. But when it comes to people, there is no such thing as a constant.