PROOF by David Auburn, directed by Martha Henry, with Jennifer Paterson, Tamara Bernier, Matthew Edison and Hardee T. Lineham. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Limited run, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75, limited Monday pwyc and half-price same-day rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN Rating: NN
The year 2000 must have been a weak one for American plays. How else to explain David Auburn's slim Proof winning pretty much every theatre writing prize in the U.S.?Even ignoring CanStage's flawed production, the play doesn't add up to much. It's about a University of Chicago math prof who's brilliant but mentally unstable (Another Beautiful Mind, anyone?), his two very different daughters -- one looked after him while he was ill, the other escaped to New York -- and an ambitious grad student who's rifling through his papers.
Into the equation, Auburn inserts themes like sibling rivalry, academic one-upmanship and the gender bias in mathematics, but there are still lots of unknowns. What happened to the girls' mother? Did anything of note happen in the family's past?
For that matter, what kind of theatre has Auburn been watching lately? The play's deadeningly linear; it could have been written 50 years ago. Nothing wrong with that, but considering one of the play's main themes is theoretical math, couldn't he have found a way to dramatize that in the play's structure, as Tom Stoppard did in Arcadia and Michael Frayn did in Copenhagen?
Martha Henry's production adds some bizarre notes, like having a character humming the song Crazy -- OK, we got it -- and making hungover characters resemble harpies.
Tamara Bernier, Hardee T. Lineham and especially Matthew Edison have moments where they rise above the material and the production, but poor Jennifer Paterson's central character, Catherine, relies more on producing an annoying harsh monotone sound than exploring her character's fears and hopes.
It's a self-conscious, forced performance of a role that with a better actor -- Gwyneth Paltrow's doing the film -- could make an OK middlebrow play into something watchable.