Wexford Drama Group present ‘Proof’ by David Auburn

Setting

Chicago 2000

Synopsis

The play is about Catherine, the daughter of Robert, a recently deceased professor and her struggle with mathematical genius and mental illness. Catherine had cared for her father. Upon Robert’s death, his student Hal discovers a proof about prime numbers in Robert’s office. Can Catherine prove the proof’s authorship? Along with demonstrating the proof’s authenticity, the daughter also finds herself in a relationship with 28-year-old Hal. Throughout, the play explores Catherine’s fear of following in her father’s footsteps, both mathematically and mentally and her desperate attempts to stay in control.

Cast

Catherine Danielle Reck
Robert Phil Lyons
Hal Stephen Byrne
Claire Patrice McGillycuddy

Crew

Director Paul Walsh
Assistant Director Carol Long
Set Design Pip Walsh
Set Construction Pip Walsh & Martin Wallace
Lighting Pip Walsh
Sound Pip Walsh
Stage Manager Carol Long
Costumes Fiona Grant & Anne McLoughlin
Props Jane Kent & Carol Long
Stage Crew Michael Murphy, Brian Hynes Ann-Marie Walsh, Paul Reck, Chris Doyle, Jamie Ruttledge & Nicola Roche

About The Group

Wexford Drama Group is an amateur drama group located in the town of Wexford in the south east of Ireland. They usually perform three full-length productions each year. Beginning with a February production, which is put forward to compete on the All-Ireland Drama Circuit. Each year they travel to numerous festivals around the country representing Wexford town, with an ultimate goal of reaching the All-Ireland finals held in Athlone in May of each year. They also present a play in mid summer and another in October to coincide with the Wexford Festival Opera.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

In her introduction, Festival Adjudicator Anna Walker noted that ‘Proof’ was premiered in 2000, and it subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for drama. It was also made into a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.
Set in Chicago, the play deals with subjects and themes such as mathematics, the fine line between genius and madness and the love between a father and daughter. It’s a “beautiful play” where maths, genius, love and passion collide, the adjudicator said. And there is the fear of a daughter inheriting the mental illness of her father. Ms Walker also noted the energy of “a gentle whodunit” regarding who wrote the mathematics proof (Catherine or her father Robert).
Ms Walker said the challenge for a director is to “locate the heart” of what is a “moving and gentle” piece of theatre and she felt Paul Walsh realised this aim. “You could hear a pin drop in the audience,” she stated. However, the adjudicator said the cast must “be careful not to push the characterisations” in this play and to “pull back a bit” on occasion.
The adjudicator praised many scenes for being “visually very engaging”, with the scene where Catherine helped her father up the steps at the back of the house an example in this regard. But the adjudicator contended that, due to the characters being moved around the stage, the timing of some lines was “slightly off at times”. She said stillness can be “very powerful” in a play and a director should never be afraid to use it where necessary. Describing ‘Proof’ as “a subtle play”, she said the subtlety was lost on occasion but the characters relaxed more in the second act.
There was “a beautiful moment” when Robert realised he had forgotten his daughter’s birthday and the pause at that point received favourable comment. In general, there was “a beautiful and mellow tone” to much of the play.
Turning her attention to the set, Ms Walker praised “the beautifully muted colours” and aspects such as the weathered fence at the back porch where the action took place. The “beautiful and haunting soundscape” was also favourably highlighted.
Hal (played by Stephen Byrne) came across as “a regular guy” who had “a good line in self-deprecation” and “a nice sense of awkwardness”. He had “a great connection” with Catherine and he was commended in particular for the final scene.
Claire (Patricia McGillycuddy) was “a contrasting foil” to Catherine and she had “a very attractive stage presence”. She showed “well judged concern” for Catherine and “good straight talking” with Hal, though the danger of forcing this characterisation was also mentioned.
The role of Catherine (Danielle Reck) was described as “very challenging” to play, but the actress showed the necessary “angst” and a “lot of spikiness”. According to the adjudicator, there “was an opportunity for this character to be allowed to breathe a bit more”, but there was praise for her expressiveness in the scene where Hal and Claire didn’t believe she had written the proof. Overall, this character has “a difficult personality” and this was shown effectively.
Robert (Phil Lyons) had “a relaxed stage presence” and the audience felt his passion both for the subject of mathematics and for his daughter. He had some humorous moments but his concern and disappointment over the prospect of his daughter moving away was well conveyed. Overall there was “a great dynamic” between father and daughter.
In conclusion, Ms Walker said that there is “joy and heartache” and “a warm glow” in this play and these aspects were powerfully conveyed to the audience in the Dean Crowe Theatre on the night.