Pentacle Theatre beats Hollywood with its new drama 'Proof'

Playgoers can see the show before the movie comes out

RON COWAN

Statesman Journal
July 15, 2005

The audience will be reminded of another story in a different medium when they see Pentacle Theatre's latest production, David Auburn's "Proof," which opens today.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play bears more than a little resemblance to the film "A Beautiful Mind," in which a person's mathematical brilliance is mated to mental instability, and what you see is not necessarily the truth.

And Pentacle Theatre has scored something of a coup as well: "Proof" already is a movie from Miramax Films, but not due out until Sept. 16. The film, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis and Jake Gyllenhaal, completed filming more than a year and a half ago, but just recently got a release date.

Normally, the play "Proof" would have been pulled from circulation, to avoid competition with the film.

"I'm so grateful the Lord is on our side," director Jo Dodge said. "I think when they gave us the rights to this there was no release date."

Miramax's loss should be Pentacle's gain: Instead of the audience comparing the local actors against the stars, it may be the other way around for once.

"Proof" is the kind of play where mystery and surprise count, and there is only so much the audience can be told ahead of time to save the revelations for the production.

"Part of the fun of this production is what you discover as you go," said Lesli Okorn, who plays the pivotal character Catherine.

She is the daughter of a brilliant mathematician, Robert (Tim Jaeger) who has crossed over the line between sanity and insanity at times.

Catherine, who is close to her father in personality and mathematical brilliance, had to forgo college to look after her ailing father, without help from her older sister, Claire (Sheri Garland). The isolated lifestyle has taken its emotional and social toll. "She's put up so many guards, but she's emotionally sensitive," Okorn said of Catherine. "I think she's difficult (to play) because she's so much like I am." Claire re-enters Catherine's life when events compel her return, and then she questions Catherine's sanity, assuming that she is like Robert in too many ways. Claire, by contrast, has looked after herself, rather than other members of the family. "I just sort of throw money at my problems and have my own life," Garland said of her character. By the end of the first act, the audience must confront the question Claire raises about Catherine's sanity, with more revelations to come. A critical issue is the discovery of a groundbreaking proof of an important mathematical theorem among Robert's belongings. Is it Robert's discovery or, as Catherine claims, her discovery? Also entering the mix is Hal (David Betts), a student of Robert's and a young man who forms a romantic bond with Catherine. "I want to believe her, but at the same time, I've only known his work," said Betts, who calls Hal and Catherine geeks. "Back at school I didn't talk to her because of the intimidation factor." Jaeger said the story also is about the father-daughter relationship and the issue of trust. "Robert is an obsessive-compulsive kind of guy," he said. "There's the line where he crosses into madness. "He sees life in patterns; he obsesses on them to the extreme that he goes over the edge." Although he appreciates what his daughter has sacrificed for him, it's hard for him to acknowledge the emotional connection. "The neat thing about the play is these four people," Dodge said of the small cast. "I think with the four characters, they each play in the progression of the story; through their eyes you see who Catherine is." Although the story line may sound dark, the play has humor, as well as mystery, romance and passion, Dodge said. The title of "Proof" has many meanings in the context of the play. "Catherine has to prove her sanity, her ability to do math," Garland said. "She needs proof of her value as a human being," production composer Randy Bowser said of Catherine. Bowser joined the show to compose for the first time since his directing debut in "The Cemetery Club" in 1994. "As with the musicals I've directed here, the music was performed and produced in my home studio," he said. "I developed themes for each of the four characters, and those leitmotifs (melodic phrases) are blended in various ways during the scene transitions." The music is meant to work subliminally, Bowser said. "Proof" takes place entirely on a back porch in Chicago, a set designed by technical director Tony Zandol. The audience is cautioned that the play contains strong language and may not be suitable for children, Dodge said. rcowan@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6728