Review: Moonstone Theatre Company’s ‘Proof’ is a compelling, must-see family drama | Theater reviews


Tolstoy famously observed that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Inasmuch as the major Russian novelist died in 1910, he couldn’t possibly have read or attended a performance of “Proof,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a young woman dealing with the demons of her father and the demands of her older sister. But he probably would have appreciated its grasp of family dynamics.

In a remarkable Moonstone Theatre Company production directed by artistic director Sharon Hunter, playwright David Auburn’s absorbing tale of a reluctant math prodigy is revealed to be a meditation on the pluses and minuses of moving on.

Catherine (Summer Baer) is close to her dad, Robert (Michael James Reed), an immensely gifted mathematics professor who struggles to hold onto his sanity — and regards her as his lifeline. Clearly, Robert resents Catherine’s efforts to get out of the house and into the world. And gradually, he’s become her excuse for not pursuing her dreams. Never mind that she shows signs of inheriting his genius.

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Change comes when two very different people arrive on Catherine’s doorstep: Hal (Oliver Bacus), a student and admirer of her father whose attention soon drifts in her direction, and Claire (Julie Amuedo), her overbearing sibling who has an agenda that’s not so much hidden as it is hideous.

What neither of them realizes is that Catherine has a huge secret.

Auburn has crafted a spellbinding story that raises provocative questions about the line between genius and madness and the complexities of love — both familial and romantic. If the play is somewhat old-fashioned, it’s also wholly relatable.

Baer persuasively embodies Catherine’s mercurial blend of intelligence and testiness. Reed is simply outstanding as the brilliant but unintentionally abrasive Robert. Bacus brings to Hal an intriguing blend of ambition and naiveté. And Amuedo deftly portrays Claire as someone who’s trying hard not to be a villain but not necessarily succeeding.

Hunter maintains a measured pace that draws the audience in. And the contributions of scenic designer Dunsi Dai, lighting designer Michael Sullivan and sound designer Amanda Werre go a long way toward situating the production in a twilight zone between memory and reality.

“Proof” debuted on Broadway in 2000 to critical acclaim and has lost none of its dramatic impact. Perhaps it’s too soon to declare it a great American play of the same rank as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “A Raisin in the Sun” or “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but it’s definitely a contender. And this production demands to be seen.

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