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Theatre Review: ‘Proof’ at Blackfriars Theatre

I was first acquainted with the show Proof during the final days of my high school career. In between college acceptance notifications, prom, and well wishes for a bright tomorrow, this story of a girl whose future was put on hold unfolded in an unenthusiastic and mostly unwelcome fashion. However, the poignancy of the story remained with me, and having the opportunity to revisit it years, and many life experiences later, was welcome. With fresh eyes I gained the ability to see the many layers of this disarmingly quiet, yet affecting piece.

. . .a performance that you are sure to enjoy..

Proof, finds Catherine (Jill Rittinger) in the early morning moments of her twenty-fifth birthday, celebrating with champagne and a chat with her father, Robert (David Munnell). During the course of the conversation, it is revealed that Catherine doubts that her mathematical abilities rival those of her mathematical genius father’s and, those doubts have turned into a severe depression. Robert attempts to allay her fears, but falls short when Catherine steers the conversation toward Robert’s mental illness, and the possibility that she might have inherited it. This point is punctuated when Robert reveals that he is recently deceased, and the fact that they are sitting together having champagne and a chat, “…could be a bad sign.”

Hal (Colin D. Pazik), a former advisee of Robert bounds out of the house, has been working late examining the hundreds of notebooks that Robert left in his study. Catherine and Hal have a tense relationship – she is convinced that there is nothing noteworthy in any of the manic scribblings that her father compulsively wrote as a symptom of his advancing illness. Hal believes that there has to be something publishable saying, “I don’t believe a mind like his can just shut down.” Things heat up when Catherine discovers that Hal was attempting to take one of Robert’s notebooks out of the house – a notebook that held a lucid message about a particularly good day that Robert had with Catherine.

The next day, Claire (Stephanie Sheak), Catherine’s older sister arrives at the house for the funeral services. Claire expresses her concerns about Catherine’s ability to care for herself and introduces the idea of Catherine moving to New York City with Claire and her fiancé. Catherine is completely against the idea, but with the impending funeral the conversation is put on hold.

Later in the evening Hal and Catherine share a moment over a beer that leads to apologies of sort, the acknowledgement of a mutual attraction, and finally the awkward “morning after” talk of two people that were intimate. Catherine offers Hal the key to a locked drawer in Robert’s desk where a notebook containing a potentially groundbreaking mathematical proof is held. The budding relationship, family loyalty and Catherine’s sanity all come into question when Catherine reveals that she, not Robert, is the author of the proof.

Contrary to my initial reading of this show, Proof is not about the life of a genius deferred, at least not completely. It’s about a young woman struggling with grief, depression and fear – fear of inadequacy, and fear of the perceived inevitability of life.

Roger Budnik has designed a beautifully intricate set – the backyard of an extremely lived in, tattered home complete with back porch, grass yard, and even back hallway of the home. Under Brian Coughlin’s direction the entire production has a feeling of intimacy – moments are created, almost like intimate snapshots utilizing the entirety of the set.

The cast of ‘Proof’ at Blackfriars Theatre.

Jill Rittinger brings a humor and sarcasm to Catherine that is a necessary and welcome trait for this character, that otherwise could be read as extremely somber. She does a fantastic job bringing this person with her extreme lows, paranoia and near manic moments of desperation, to life. This is a grueling role, with nearly every scene including Catherine, but Rittinger starts, and more importantly finishes, on a high note.

Stephanie Sheak brings a caring authenticity to Claire. Sheak is able to show the heart behind a character whose actions could be read as shrewd, and at the end of the show you’re left not necessarily agreeing with Claire’s actions, but empathizing with her and understanding why she does what she does.

David Munnel embodies the role of the frantic Professor Robert extremely well. Though Munnel’s energy was a bit high at the start, his performance evened out quite well and by the second act he was fully the frenzied genius that he was portraying.

Colin D. Pazik was a delightful Hal – the energy that he brought as a young hopeful professor stood as a perfect contrast to Rittinger’s bleaker Catherine. Pazik is able to bring forth the hope, frustration and imperfect intentions of this character.

Overall, this intimate black box theater experience, is a performance that you are sure to enjoy.

Jill has recieved critical praise for her performance of leading roles in classics of the American Theatre and beyond...
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