Local theater is almost always conservative – and safe. The talent may be exceptional but the vision is always restrained. It’s almost as if Philadelphia were the ugly stepsister to brilliant and beautiful New York.
Yet Philadelphia doesn’t care to compete – not with the stage bravado or grandeur of Broadway. Philly is content resting on its cushioned laurels, pleasing theater subscribers and sinking fast into black-box inter-sanctum.
However, The Arden Theater’s production of “Proof” suggests evidence to the contrary.
“Proof,” the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play from David Auburn, is a fierce and gripping display of how great art can transcend the cultural laziness of our fair city.
Centered on Catherine (the flawless Alexandra Geis) and her struggle to cope with the death of her mathematical genius/father Robert (Bev Appleton), “Proof” is a swift tour through the battle of defining love, sanity, algebraic equations and the space between.
The audience meets Catherine on the dawn of her 25th birthday, her dead father appearing to her with encouragement to dispel her depression and move on with life.
On top of turning 25, Catherine must bury her father the same day, as well as deal with the arrival of her perfect and stereotypically patronizing older sister Claire (the sunny-yet-funny Christie Parker). Meanwhile, Hal (Geoff Sobelle), a mathematician and disciple of Robert, makes his overbearing presence known as he rifles through her fathers’ old notebooks looking for remnants of genius.
Amidst the sexual tension from Hal, the worries of her sister and her own questionable mental state, Catherine is left to solve the toughest equation of her life. If X is the mad-but-brilliant legacy of her father and Y is the courage to rise above the grief, doubt and judgment. Where’s the proof?
The proof is laced in Auburn’s delicious soufflé of the solutions we arrive at to dictate our worth.
The astounding cast leaves no room to notice the cough-drop chewers and obnoxious whisperers in the audience. We’re talking edge-of-your-seat spellbound.
Geis masterfully portrays the youthful torture that Catherine experiences by letting contempt and heartbreak unfold each time she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear.
Christie Parker as Claire pulls an air-tight rope for Catherine to walk; spun with shallow concern for her troubled sisters’ sanity and deep-seated resent for always having to be the responsible one.
Geoff Sobelle as Hal crafts excellent chemistry with Geis’ Catherine and shows as much enthusiasm for their mutual love as he does for mathematical theorems.
Bev Appleton’s brief but haunting performance as Robert leaves the audience begging for more of his humble, power-packed presence.
Director James J. Christy presents the effort with subtly and grace, set in the intimate Arcadia stage within the Arden.
Ultimately it’s the silence that lets “Proof” roar. The understatement of pain and the taking-for-granted we execute on problems with easy solutions comes full circle and we’re left alone, scraping for answers. The play proves that sometimes, if we’re lucky, it’s not the solutions that matter, but having someone to work them out with.
“Proof” has been extended through March 21. For tickets and information, visit their Web site at www.Ardentheater.org.
Matt Donnelly can be reached at email@example.com.