Like working out a difficult math problem, Sheri Grace/Midtown Productions’ rendition of Proof is a complex and multilayered tale of grief, love, and the elusiveness of truly original thought.
The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play is about Catherine, a woman in her mid-20s who selflessly gives up her college years to care for her mentally ill father, Robert, who dies at the beginning of the show. Through Catherine’s initial hallucinogenic conversation with her deceased father and a series of flashbacks, we learn of the emotionally exhausting, academically obsessed relationship the two shared. Robert, played by local stage veteran Bill Terranova (The Shadowbox, Little Shop of Horrors), was regarded as the mathematical genius of his generation, but illness has robbed him of his talent. Terranova’s booming voice and larger-than-life stage presence makes his portrayal less of a feeble old man and more of a crazy-but-brilliant professor. When Terranova was on stage, he was all you were looking at, a welcome distraction from a tiny space with forgettable staging.
As Catherine, Charley Boyd (Arabian Nights, Richard III) engulfs the audience with her raw portrayal of a broken woman on the brink of insanity herself. Following her father’s death, she’s left to cope with countless questions with no answers in sight. Boyd plays a nonchalant young adult who moonlights as a self-maddening protégé, and her performance was the uncontested best of the evening.
Joshua Keller, in his Midtown debut, plays Hal, the awkward yet lovable former grad student of Robert’s who hangs around Catherine’s house, going through his old professor’s endless notebooks of crazy-man gibberish. Hal thinks he’ll find a method in the madness and uses his discovery expedition as an excuse to spend time with Catherine, who he has a crush on. Keller appropriately bumbles along, in true nervous grad student fashion, but there are times when he wasn’t quite believable — most notably in his odd romantic interactions with Catherine.
Before Catherine can (as she fears) follow in the footsteps of her father by slipping into idle madness, her bossy sister Claire arrives and attempts to rectify the mess that is Catherine’s life post-Robert.
Despite a lack of stage time compared to the rest of the cast, newcomer Camila Frausto makes a memorable impression as Claire. Her performance as a young Mother Hen from Manhattan is funny and oddly charming — the audience doesn’t get nearly as irritated with Claire as Catherine does. In between pressuring Catherine to move with her to New York and extolling the virtues of jojoba oil to improve feminine wiles, she does her sister a favor by requiring her to start living like a human being again.
In the midst of Catherine’s healing process, which revolves around repairing her relationship with her sister and starting a romance with her father’s former grad student, Hal uncovers the mythical genius-authored mathematical proof that he’s been searching for in Robert’s notebooks. When Catherine claims ownership of the theory, neither Hal nor Claire will believe her. Therein lies the double entendre reflected in the title of the play — can Catherine prove that she wrote the proof? Your mind will be spinning from the unexpected conclusion of the story, along with the realization that you can no longer remember how to take the square root of nine.
If you’re not a mathlete, don’t fret — in the end, the underlying equation of Proof is closer to “you plus me equals love” than it is to an unresolved mess. You’ll leave James Island satisfied that the equation was worked out with skill by the talented cast of Sheri Grace/Midtown Productions.