Psychological disintegration, particularly the sort that centers around visitations from unseen persons and family members, is often a challenging theme to articulate and present on stage. Embellishments, delicacies of language, sensitive interactions, and authenticity of representation are at stake in the staging of theatrical pieces centering around mental health (and mental health intertwined with tempestuous family dynamics). David Auburn’s lauded and oft-recreated 2000 play Proof, tangles with a great deal that could potentially misfire or be portrayed inaccurately. The play chronicles the complicated relationship between Catherine, a woman who dropped out of college and devoted her energies to caring for her mathematical genius father in his prolonged suffering from a schizophrenic disorder, her estranged sister Claire and Hal, a young PhD student of Catherine’s father that is devoted to bringing the genius of Catherine’s father to light. The play starts on the night of Claire’s birthday after her father has passed away, and Catherine experiences a hallucinatory waking dream in which she talks explicitly with her father and begins to develop anxieties are rapidly deteriorating in the same fashion as her father.
Little Lake Theatre’s production of Proof, replete with a robustly exuberant and ambitious cast, tackles the sensitive subject matter originally written by Auburn with grace and also an invigorated enthusiasm. Much of the success of the show is predicated upon the excellent staging and set design—which optimally capitalizes on the company’s rustic and intimate space—that eloquently captures the closeness and themes of uneasy domesticity that dominate the play. The set design for the show, and the cleverly designed seating-in-the-round audience structure allowed for a key element of proximity and homeliness that conveys an ideal scenery but also a disturbed dismantling of home life. The subtleties in the set design exquisitely parallel the finite familial and interpersonal relations that are fraught, become unraveled, and also intertwine.
In terms of casting, Little Lake’s lineup for Proof benefits from a talented ensemble that not only has ample acting acumen but also is endowed with a substantial background in production, set design and behind-the-scenes work in theatre. These unique, multifaceted strengths of the cast are apparent in the physicality of the performances. Where at times the lines are articulated with a bit of a high level of hyperbole or exaggeration, the physical movements executed by the actors on stage are ultimately flawless and imbue the narrative with the raw, ineffable emotion that is necessary for the sensitive subject matter of Proof. Perhaps the most heartfelt performer of the lot, and perhaps not shockingly, is Jena Oberg in her embodiment of Catherine. Oberg makes every move and fills every line with a visceral passion that attests to the absolute, hyper-personal terror of reconciling your love and debt to a person you also despise and who may bear the genetic responsibility for your own psychological dissolution. While the entire cast is supremely talented, Oberg extraordinarily carries the weight of the emotional burden of the besotted daughter.
Little Lake’s production of Proof illuminates their prosperous future and potential for phenomenal future shows. The ability of the cast and crew to present a highly fraught show, riddled with the complexities of mental illness, family, AND mathematics foreshadows an incredible future for the company.
Proof runs at Little Lake Theatre through June 26. For tickets and more information, click here.
Special thanks to Little Lake Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of James Orr.