‘Proof’ provides formula for good theatre

| 09/05/2019
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(L-R) Kirsty Halliday, Jaci Patrick and Liam Oko in scene from Proof

(CNS Local Life): It may seem implausible that a play revolving around the issues of Alzheimer’s, mental health and family conflict, with maths added to the mix, could also include a touch of comedy, but Proof is able to combine all those pieces in one cohesive unit, plus throw in a bit of young love. This latest offering from the Cayman Drama Society, by award-winning playwright David Auburn, opens tonight (9 May) at the Prospect Playhouse.

Director Paul de Freitas said he was inspired to take on the play after seeing the movie adaptation. “I was fascinated by it and thought it should have been a play,” he said. After looking it up, he discovered that not only was Proof originally a play, but it also won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Auburn. That sealed the deal, leading de Freitas, who manages the playhouse, to take up the director’s reins, which he does about every two years.

He added that when choosing a work to put on he looks at the story and not how popular the play will be. “Everything I do, I want it to be different. I don’t care about bums in seats; I care about good theatre,” he said.

Proof is a four-character play beginning with the relationship between Catherine and her father, Robert, a brilliant mathematician who suffered from a debilitating mental illness the last four years of his life as they lived in the family home in Chicago. Catherine, who cared for her father, also is gifted in maths, but lives in fear she may have inherited his illness. That fear informs her outlook on life and her relationships, or lack thereof. The other two characters are Claire, Catherine’s older sister, who lives in New York and wrestles with the guilt of not being there to help with their father’s care and concern that Catherine may suffer a similar fate to Robert. Hal is a former graduate student of Robert’s who has been going through his professor’s journals seeking any groundbreaking work that may have been left unpublished, while forming a connection with Catherine.

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Mark Thomas and Jaci Patrick play father and daughter

The actors in the play, two of whom are in lead roles for the first time, were all attracted by the story. Jaci Patrick, who plays Catherine, actually acted in some of the scenes during one of the classes she took while studying for a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and theatre at the University of South Florida. “I knew the play and I loved it,” she said. Her last experience at the playhouse was a small role in the musical Hairspray, back in 2012, so this was a big step up.

As soon as she got the script in January, she started learning her lines and developing her character. To help in that process, she told herself, “‘You are Catherine.’ I started to relate to her,” adding, “Acting gives me a chance to play someone else, but I also found ways to add some of myself into the role.” Her hard work paid off in her portrayal of Catherine, ranging from vulnerable and depressed to funny, fragile and withdrawn, while also finding herself falling in love.

Mark Thomas (Robert), was also familiar with the script, having done a few scenes in acting classes given by Kirsty Halliday (who plays Claire). “I did a little research and decided I wanted to play Robert. I felt drawn to the role because there are mental-health issues in my family – my mum suffers from Alzheimer’s – and I could relate to that.”

It was also a giant leap for Thomas, whose previous stage experience involved small roles in comedies and musicals. He appears in three scenes, but his character is very different in each one, which proved the biggest challenge for Thomas. Without giving too much away, the first scene revolves around a memory, in the second he is in full-professor mode, lucidly engaging with both his grad student and his daughter. The final scene for him chronicles a descent into madness. “I had to try to sell those three different characters,” he explained, with the impressive results belying his inexperience not only in a leading role, but also in drama.

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(L-R) Kirsty Halliday and Jaci Patrick as sisters Claire and Catherine

Halliday, who most recently directed the powerful Diary of Anne Frank at the playhouse last fall, but does include acting on her resume, was a last-minute replacement when the previous actress slated to play Claire had to drop out; she accepted the part just last month. The abbreviated schedule left her attending just six rehearsals, plus the final dress rehearsal this week. Yet she somehow managed to memorise all her lines without any hint that she was only a month into the role, and many months behind the rest of the cast.

She said she found Claire “really fascinating”, noting that “she was very unlikable but only because the audience is seeing her through Catherine’s eyes. But when you really look at her, she’s got a lot of kindness in her.”

Referring to the “heartbreaking” premise of having to deal with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, she said the most difficult part was “finding the comedy in something with such a serious subject matter”.

Liam Oko (Hal) had studied playwright Auburn in school so was familiar with his work and he loved the script. He has mostly done comedy, and recently experienced his dramatic coming of age when he played Peter Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank.

“I love that this is definitely a drama,” he said of Proof, “but has some hidden moments of comedy to lighten it up a bit. It was fun to find where the comedy was to make you laugh at times when it wasn’t expected. That was so beautiful about the writing.”

He credits director de Freitas in making that possible. “Paul showed us where the humour was and made sure it came across. He’s an incredible director.”

In turn, De Freitas credits the cast: “All of the actors were superb.”  

Performance dates for Proof are 9-11, 17, 18, 23-25 May. Tickets are available through the Cayman Drama Society website

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Category: Arts, Performing Arts

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