nytheatre.com review by Nicole Bournas-Ney
April 28, 2010
The characters in David Auburn's arresting drama, Proof, running at Theater 54, may lack all kinds of certainty, but there is no lack of evidence on display that this production is first rate. Auburn's story is given vivid life by a quartet of talented actors—Daryl Brown, Brian W. Seibert, Deirdre MacNamara, and Jake Lipman (who is also Tongue in Cheek's artistic director), under the direction of Kristen Kentner.
In Auburn's work, Catherine, the caregiver-daughter of brilliant and mentally ill mathematician Robert is, as the play opens, coping with her father's very recent death while a former student of Robert's, Harold ("Hal") Dobbs, is reading through the endless and completely chaotic notebooks left by his late professor. The next morning Catherine's older sister Claire arrives, and questions of guilt, resentment, fear, and math come to a head.
This play truly needs all four of its characters to keep its engine running, but the lynchpin of the show's plot is Catherine. Lipman does a beautiful job of tapping into the anger, fear, and budding romantic feelings that Catherine confronts in the intense roller coaster of the one week following her father's death. She also does a stellar job of keeping her sister (and the audience) on edge as she displays glimpses of a scary instability not unlike her father's. In fact, some of Lipman's best moments come in those scenes with MacNamara, who plays her sister. Lipman and MacNamara generate a believable and intentionally explosive chemistry, as Catherine's unpredictability and resentment square off against Claire's repression and guilt.
The men of Proof more than hold their own as well. Although in his brief appearance in Act I Daryl Brown seems to fall short of the challenge of playing the staggeringly complex and brilliant math genius Robert, he truly steps up and brings a powerful combination of intensity and frailty to his emotionally fraught scenes in Act II. As the last member of the four-person ensemble, Seibert creates a Hal who distinctly seems to have enough math acumen to know mathematical genius when he sees it but not enough ability to actually fully understand it. He also matches well with Lipman as their sometimes awkward, slightly timid romance unfolds.
There's an old saying that all you need to make theatre is a script and people willing to perform the parts. This production, with its super spare set, minimal lighting, and basic jeans-and-t-shirts costumes, shows us that provided you throw exceptional talent into the mixture, these two elements really are all you need to create a great night at the theatre.