'Proof' an intense family drama

By Nancy Welliver, Special to the HeraldMarch 15, 2013 

Proof, David Auburn's award-winning play, is an enigma.

The Richland Players' latest production, directed by Richard Reuther, is an uncommonly intelligent look at a family whose passion is mathematics.

It manages to be touching and at the same time puzzling and tantalizing. It flirts with, but eventually rejects, the stereotypes that surround mathematicians, fathers and daughters.

The play revolves around the relationship between a math professor, Robert, and one of his young adult daughters, Catherine. Anna Newbury, playing Catherine with just the right touch of wit and exasperation, is superb. Her dramatic timing and inner balance between devoted daughter and stunted genius hold the play together.

Cameron Milton, as a rather nervous young math professor attracted to Catherine, perfectly projects a likable, wistful techie. He is brilliant at reciting nerdy math jokes with a certain sweetness and complete lack of self-conscious embarrassment.

Hallie Harris plays Catherine's uber-bossy sister, Claire, with flair. Claire is the nongenius in the family. She is also the practical one. She seems to see herself as the only sane one. The friction between the sisters is fueled by the need for each of them to be seen as gifted and giving, each in her own way. Their interactions with each other, from loud fights to fixing each other's hair, are touching and very real.

Alan Tindell plays their mathematics professor dad, Robert. Tindell pulls off what is probably the most difficult role in the play. Where brilliant and crazy men are also stereotypically cynical, other-worldly and awkward, Robert is not. He's a superstar intellectual who's also a kindly father. He dispenses hugs while struggling to understand the difference between reality and delusion.

Is he a kind man as well as a genius? Is he crazy? These are the central questions that the audience may wonder about throughout the production.

The entire play takes place in the backyard of the ramshackle family home. Set designer Bob Watrous did a wonderful job. Trash and decaying leaves are strewn from edge to edge of the stage while the characters perch in chairs on the neat and orderly island of a back porch. The lights in their home flash on suddenly and dim away, as if the house itself were a bit mad.

If you like intense family dramas, puzzlelike plots, and crisp, intelligent dialog, you will like this show. Fair warning: The language gets pretty strong at times.

*Nancy Welliver is a longtime supporter of the arts. She has worked at Hanford as an engineer and is a member of the Camerata Musica organization.

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