Dramaworks' Proof Is Intelligent Examination Of Intelligent People Who Can't Cope With People Intelligently

Review

Dramaworks' Proof Is Intelligent Examination Of Intelligent People Who Can't Cope With People Intelligently

May 26 2012
Bill Hirschman | Florida Theater On Stage

...Dealing with people, on the other hand, is messy. 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... because no one else nearby has the cojones (and, arguably, the skill) to pull off Ionesco and Albee half as well. ...Tanner is an experienced actress from northwest Florida...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. His flashback scenes deliver a warm, gentle man whose paternal compassion for his daughter makes him seem familiar, even if Robert is an Einstein-class genius. 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. Older patrons especially will relate to Kay/Robert's musing during his coherent months that his best years are behind him. ...While the entire evening chugs along smoothly, Tanner, Hayes and especially Kay slingshot the quality to higher level in the second to last scene. In the flashback, the father has emerged from insanity for a few months and tells Catherine he is transfixed by the sudden return of his ability to reason out ground-breaking math theory. Tanner is fine here and the pair have had a reasonable amount of tamped down chemistry before this. But Kay comes alive with the fierce passion that can only be aroused in creative minds when they are engorged with the power of ideas snapping like electricity arcing across synapses... ...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... But especially impressive is the fluid, but rapid fire verbiage among these articulate characters. 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. Michael Amico once again creates an almost photorealistic environment, this time the backyard of a modest home in a Chicago suburb, imbued with a dappled autumnal beauty by lighting designer Ron Burns and scored with a subtle soundscape of neighborhood noises by Rich Szczublewski... And welcome back costume designer Erin Amico whose eye for fabrics and styles that communicate character is simply dead on...