Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Prove It All Night: Great Script, Superb Performances and Native Setting Make This 'Proof' Work Beautifully -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

a play by David Auburn
directed by Charles Newell
Court Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 14

Proof is an outstanding play.

I thought so the first time I saw it, in 2002, on its initial National Tour, and also in 2004 in a local production at the Goodman Theatre.

Written by David Auburn, Proof won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Upon the end of the century's first decade, I ranked it second among My Favorite Plays of the '00s (topped only by John Patrick Shanley's Doubt).

As such, especially with a quality cast and director, Proof should be a delight--even if its storyline is a bit dark--for anyone to see, anywhere. From Anchorage to Amsterdam, Zurich to Zagreb, a well-done production of Proof should prove quite pleasing.

But Auburn is a University of Chicago graduate and he set his play in the backyard of a nearby Hyde Park house, with one of the characters being an esteemed U of C mathematics professor.

So although I was never smart enough to attend the prestigious institution, there was nonetheless something a bit special about seeing Proof done at Court Theatre, which is a professional theater company housed on the U of C campus.

As I was trying to intimate above, Proof should work anywhere, and while the locale connection may have made it inherently a bit cooler, it didn't acutely make it any better.

But what does make Charles Newell's production better is a sensational 4-person cast, led by the astonishing Chaon Cross as Catherine and the impressively diverse Kevin Gudahl--who I've seen in numerous musicals and a farce, but here shows terrific dramatic chops, too--as her father.

If you aren't familiar with Proof, from the play or the 2005 film adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins--which was solid but not as brilliantly structured--I suggest you see it with as little pre-revealed as possible.

So I will not cite any more of the storyline except to say that it revolves around family, high-level math and mental illness. With his sparse staging, director Newell--also the Court's Artistic Director--supposedly plays up Catherine's emotional anguish a bit more than past productions (I can't say I explicitly remember), but emotively-dextrous Cross is well up to the acting challenge.

And while I know many people who will run scared just from the word "math," I promise that one's own mathematical prowess--or lack thereof--is largely immaterial to identifying with what happens onstage.

If you do see Proof at Court, where it has been extended until April 14 and has it's own URL, I would be happy to discuss it with you, as I feel the ending is a bit too feel good.

But the choice Auburn made regarding the final minute of Proof does not substantially detract from the wonders of the previous two hours, especially in a production this good.

Even if you, like me, enter knowing the key twists that can really only surprise once, just for Cross and Gudahl, plus Erik Hellman and Megan Kohl, this may well prove to the best play and production you see this year.

And though it's worth full price, for those who value great quality at a bargain, Proof has been showing up on HotTix and Goldstar, with Court Theatre offering its own rush discounts.

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