Play:        “Proof”

Group:        Insight Theatre Company

Venue:        Heagney Theater, Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood

Dates:        October 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Tickets:    From $10 to $30; contact 314-239-9040 or www.insighttheatrecompany.com

Story:    Catherine has spent several years as caretaker for her widowed father Robert.  A brilliant mathematics professor at the University of Chicago, Robert set academia ablaze in his early 20s with trend-setting mathematical formulations.  As one of his students points out, though, that’s the age when most mathematicians peak, and in Robert’s case he’s clearly gone downhill since.  Much of that has to do with his frequent bouts of mental illness.

    Now, upon her 25th birthday and her father’s death, Catherine is faced with numerous decisions.  Her older sister Claire wants her to move to New York, partly to start life anew but also to get medical attention for Catherine’s own proclivity with depression and struggles with sanity.  Conversely, Hal, a former student of Robert’s and recent Ph.D. in math, wants to meticulously study the 103 notebooks that Robert left behind, hoping to find another mathematical ‘eureka moment’ amid the incoherent ramblings while also nurturing a relationship with Catherine.  When Catherine leads him to a particularly compelling study, the debate is on as to who is the real author of the revolutionary ‘proof’ about prime numbers.  Has Catherine inherited her father’s genius or his madness or both?

Highlights:    Playwright David Auburn scored a trifecta in 2001, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play for this tight, incisive, beautifully paced story.  All four of its characters are nicely developed, offering ample opportunities for an accomplished performer to do them justice on stage.

    That’s precisely what happens in the Insight Theatre Company production smoothly directed by Wayne Loui.  Eliciting polished performances by his quartet of players, Loui keeps the two-act drama focused and taut with nary a lagging moment.  The result is a highly satisfying presentation.

Other Info:    All four of the performers present well-rounded and nicely nuanced interpretations.  As Catherine, Colleen Caul clearly demonstrates the emotional instability of the talented but troubled young woman, alternating between self-pity, anger and lethargy with moments of genuine affection for her father as well as the genial Hal.  Erin Kelley offers a complex reading of Claire, moving beyond the easy villainy of the role to demonstrate the elder sister’s frustrations with her family, her resignation to her role in life (a Wall Street currency analyst, at that) in comparison with her father and sister, and her determination to help as she thinks best.

    John Contini brings his accomplished manner to the part of Robert and is at his heart-breaking best in a scene on the back porch of the family home in the dead of winter as he feverishly demands that Catherine read back his “illuminating” scribbles.  As the affable Hal, Matt Lindhardt demonstrates the crystal clarity of reason and logic, and affection, from the outside world to the troubled confines of Robert’s frustrated family.  He holds the key to understanding not only the elusive ‘proof’ of that mysterious treatise but also to the fragility of Catherine’s psyche.

    Sarah Hoeynck’s set design conveys the coziness of an older home in a comfortable Chicago neighborhood.  Sean Savoie provides the diffuse lighting, Laura Hanson’s costumes are straightforward and Tori Meyer’s sound design tends to a country/light jazz fusion of sorts, perhaps reflecting the conflict of creativity and comfort within Catherine.

    “Proof” is a well-honed drama that under Loui’s carefully calibrated direction is given its due in this well-rendered rendition.

Rating:    A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.