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The Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production of Proof, which won the 2001 Tony Award® for Best Play and the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for playwright David Auburn, is all about family; but it is not exactly family fare, because of the playwright’s frequent use of the F-word to punctuate stormy disagreements between father and daughter, daughter and father’s prize pupil, and daughter and her older sister.
This provocative R-rated drama pulls no punches in depicting the epic conflict — even after his death — between Robert (Raleigh actor and drama teacher Chris Chappell), an internationally renowned but emotionally unstable mathematician and Catherine (Triangle newcomer Gigi DeLizza), his youngest daughter and live-in caretaker. Catherine has inherited Robert’s mathematical genius, but fears that she has also inherited the seeds of the mental illness that prevented him from working for most of his final decade.
During the opening-night performance Wednesday, emotions ran high — a little too high — among two of the four extremely talented performers. Gigi DeLizza and Chris Chappell rode their characters’ roller-coaster of emotions over the top, which made Catherine come across like a harpy and Robert seem like an ogre. Dr. Kenny C. Gannon, the show’s director, needs to rein in DeLizza and Chappell, because when actors go too far, too fast in the early scenes, so there are no emotional heights left for them to scale later.
Other than their need to moderate their emotionality — mostly during father-daughter arguments that degenerate into shouting matches — Gigi DeLizza and Chris Chappell acquitted themselves quite well playing extremely complicated characters. DeLizza is terrific as the dutiful, but somewhat resentful, and increasingly (clinically) depressed daughter. Catherine puts her education and career aspirations on hold for four years to care for her ailing father.
Chappell is charming as an aging genius whose mental “machinery” not longer works — or works only intermittently — and allows his mental tics to blossom and grow into Little Shop of Horrors-size man-eaters that utterly drain him of the mental energy required to teach college and perform high-level research in the field of mathematics.
New York actor Jonathan Putterman makes a triumphant return to his hometown of Raleigh. He gives charismatic performance as Hal, one of Robert’s favorite students and now a colleague in the math department at the University of Chicago. Hal hopes to mine Robert’s final notebooks, which appear to contain gibberish, for mathematical breakthroughs. Putterman is a consummate pro, and he makes an indelible impression — even in the scenes that he does not steal outright.
Recent N.C. State University theater graduate Tracey Phillips has the thankless task of making Claire, Catherine’s estranged and meddlesome older sister, even a little likable. Claire, who lives in New York and thinks Catherine should move there, too, is virtually indifferent to her younger sister’s feelings about such a move. Indeed, Claire is eager to sell the aging and much-in-need-of-repair family home — so beautifully recreated by scenic designer Sonya Drum — out from under Catherine.
Phillips succeeds in making Claire a three-dimensional character whose motives are not always — not entirely — selfish. That, in itself, is something of a triumph.
Hot Summer Nights director Kenny Gannon needs to moderate some of the production’s hyperemotional moments; but, other than that relatively minor adjustment, Gannon has staged this stirring domestic drama with great feeling and impressive insight into the fine line between genius and madness.
Sonya Drum’s spectacular set, which got its own special round of applause last night, is probably the best and most realistic set ever to grace the intimate 100-seat Kennedy Theater. And Curtis Johnson’s atmospheric lighting helps make Proof a must-see drama, despite the few minor caveats cited above.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Proof Thirsday-Saturday, June 30-July 2, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 3, at 2:00 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, July 6-9, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 10, at 2 p.m. in The Kennedy Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $35 per ticket or $50 for two tickets, with special student and group rates available. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/ [inactive 1/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=10304. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377107/.
Proof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn, is the next incendiary drama to be presented by Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. This provocative four-character show, under the direction of Dr. Kenny C. Gannon of Peace College, explores the proverbial fine line between genius and madness in art, in music, in literature, and — this time — in mathematics. Proof will play Wednesday-Sunday, June 29th through July 10th, in The Kennedy Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC.
The Hot Summer Nights production will star Triangle newcomer Gigi DeLizza as Catherine, an emotionally volatile one-time math prodigy now personally taking care of her ailing father; Raleigh actor and drama teacher Chris Chappell as Robert, a once-brilliant but now unstable mathematician in ill health and on the verge of death; recent N.C. State University theater graduate Tracey Phillips as Claire, Catherine’s estranged older sister who lives in New York and would just as soon have Robert institutionalized; and New York actor and Raleigh native Jonathan Putterman as Hal, one of Robert’s former students who is curious about the provenance of a “proof” — a proof that could amount to an astounding mathematical breakthrough — that he finds in one of Robert’s 100-odd notebooks.
In addition to director Kenny Gannon, the Hot Summer Nights production team includes technical director and lighting designer Curtis Jones and scenic designer Sonya Drum.
Mostly set on the back porch of an old house in Chicago, Proof premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club on May 23, 2000. The Manhattan Theatre Club production of Proof, directed by Daniel Sullivan, opened on Broadway on Oct. 24, 2000 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. The show starred Mary-Louise Parker as Catherine, Larry Bryggman as Robert, Johanna Day as Claire, and Ben Shenkman as Hal.
Proof closed on Jan. 5, 2003 after 917 performances. The show earned six 2001 Tony Award® nominations, and won the Tonys for Best Play, Best Direction (Daniel Sullivan), and Best Actress in a Play (Mary-Louise Parker). Proof also won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The upcoming motion-picture version of Proof, adapted for the screen by Auburn and directed by John Madden, stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, Anthony Hopkins as Robert, Hope Davis as Claire, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal. (Paltrow played Catherine in London in the 2002 West End production of Proof.)
In reviewing the original Broadway production of Proof, Bruce Weber of The New York Times noted, “Without any baffling erudition — if you know what a prime number is, there won’t be a single line of dialogue you find perplexing — the play presents mathematicians as both blessed and bedeviled by the gift for abstraction that ties them achingly to one another and separates them, also achingly, from concrete-minded folks like you and me. And perhaps most satisfying of all, it does so without a moment of meanness.”
New York Magazine theater critic John Simon wrote, “Proof is what Copenhagen ought to be: a play about scientists whose science matters less than their humanity. Here, those of us who want their dramatic characters to be real people need not feel excluded. Robert, a world-famous mathematician who went crazy; Catherine, his mathematically brilliant but too-depressed-to-work daughter; Hal, a young math teacher going through Robert’s hundred-plus confused notebooks; and Claire, Robert’s older daughter and a successful actuary, are above all fascinating individuals. Robert isn’t any less human even for being, through most of the play, dead. All four — whether loving, hating, encouraging or impeding one another — are intensely alive, complex, funny, human.”
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Proof Wednesday-Saturday, June 29-July 2 and July 6-9, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 3 and 10, at 2 p.m. in The Kennedy Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $35 per ticket or $50 for two tickets (except June 29th), with special student and group rates available. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/ [inactive 1/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=10304. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377107/.