Friday, August 27, 2010

Proof positive

This is just a quick post to announce that Boston's burgeoning fringe scene should take note of a (nearly) new arrival: the Independent Drama Society (a catchy title if ever there was one!) is wrapping the run of its very-solid production of David Auburn's Proof at the Factory Theatre this week - a show that, if not flawless, still displays a surprising level of sophistication and ability.

That's the good news, now the bad: I'm not a big fan of Proof, which has always seemed to me a vehicle rather than a play, even though, yes, it actually won a Pulitzer and a Tony (sigh). Author David Auburn mixes two parts Beth Henley to one part A Beautiful Mind to no clear thematic end, but the play is well-crafted, as they say, and it works, minute-to-minute. Or at least audiences seem to think so - it's one of the most widely-produced plays of the past decade.

Add to that record the fact that it only requires four actors and a single set, and you'll see why Proof has proven catnip to young theatre companies - so let's just be glad that the IDS (no, I'm not writing out that name every time) has mounted their version with care and intelligence, and found a non-Equity cast that could hold its own (at least on the surface) with many professional ones in town.

Central to the production's success is a wonderfully natural performance by newcomer Kate Daly in the lead role of Catherine, the daughter of a recently-deceased, mentally-unstable mathematician. Catherine has issues, of course - she's either her father's intellectual heir, or may have inherited his delusions instead. Luckily Ms. Daly is utterly believable, and even compelling, as a young woman who can outsmart just about everyone (and everything) else except her own brooding impulses. But I never felt any trace of actual instability in her performance that could have put over the (only partly-realized) theme at the core of the play. Like many bright, but depressed, young things, Daly's Catherine seemed abrupt and bitterly disappointed, but she was rather obviously not crazy.

Equally - actually, I thought, more accomplished - was the coolly beautiful Kara Manson as Claire, Catherine's "sensible" sister. Ms. Manson clearly had more training than anyone else in the cast, and with it she made Claire by turns suspicious and sympathetic, just as she should; but she didn't really plumb the kind of back-story frustrations and sisterly score-settling that could have deeply grounded the character. A similar superficiality afflicted Chris Larson, as the math nerd who may be wooing Catherine only to root out one of Dad's (or perhaps her own?) great mathematical proofs. Larson gave great "geek" - but we never saw any hint of an accomplished operator possibly moving behind his awkward mask (and we need that if the script's tight turns are to really come off). Rounding out the cast was Mark Bourbeau as dear, departed Dad, whose visitations may be either dreams or delusions. I found Bourbeau a bit community-theatre-presentational in his delivery at first, until the big speech in which the mathematician feels himself once again hearing the music of the spheres. Here Bourbeau was suddenly on fire - and his fall back to earth was actually heartbreaking; suddenly the production was as deep as it was competent.

But while these concerns are, I admit, gaps more than quibbles, it should be noted that director Chris Anton gave the play a convincingly natural surface regardless, and designers Kirsten Opstad and Kimberley Smith managed much within the strict limits of the Factory Theatre. The Independent Drama Society is a company to watch, and this production is proof.