As our collective focus switches from Halloween horror motifs toward preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think most people would agree that this time of year tends to be more family focused. Plans are made to visit, to come together to have a meal or two (or more!), and presents are being bought. Mixed in with all of this activity comes the inevitable stress of seeing and *gasp* talking with your family members.
Family has an uncanny ability to cut right to the bone where others seem to leave us unaffected. It is my belief this is because we can choose everyone else in our lives: friends, coworkers, what pets we bring home. The one thing we cannot choose is who makes up our family. Perhaps that is why we always feel at our most vulnerable around them.
It is no coincidence that this production of “Proof” by David Auburn, playing weekends at The Carnegie, falls within this window of time between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The show explores the weight of family legacy through the eyes of Catherine (Katie Mitchell) and her mathematician father Robert (Allen R. Middleton). What happens when you feel as if you do not live up to your full potential? What happens when others around you not only believe the same thing, but actively seek to “help” in the worst way possible? What happens when your life begins to mirror that of your parent, despite all your best efforts to prevent it?
Catherine struggles to come to terms with her father, his life and work, and how it has deeply affected her own life. As any person who struggled through their mid-20s can relate, “Proof” tackles one of the biggest questions the continues to surface with every generation: what if, instead of being better than our parents, we end up being worse?
Catherine continues to battle her inner and outer demons, with her father, her sister Claire (Kate Mock Elliot) and even a former student of her father’s (Jared Earland). Due to the structure of the show, it quickly turns into a study of how to properly develop a strong production through intense scene work. Under less capable hands, it could easily become bogged down in heavy dialogue with little action. However, under the direction of Torie Wiggins, the show finds new life in a fast pace and well-earned high stakes.
Much should also be said about Doug Stock’s flawless set design. The entire action of the play takes place on the back porch of Catherine and Robert’s home, resulting in a fully realized house façade complete with roof, fence and deck. What struck me the most was how once the time within the show changed from twilight to mid-day, all of the additional light now spilling onto the set makes the intentional flaws stand out in stark contrast to the previous idealist perfectionism the set projected in the first scene. It is this subtle — and not so subtle — detailing which really bring home the realism.
While Catherine struggles to come to terms with what her father and his overbearing legacy have meant to her and to the path her life has taken, “Proof” does not leave the audience in a state of hopelessness. It posits the theorem that maybe we will end up like our parents…but then again, maybe we will be better.
Amanda Carr is the Gift Processing and Donor Services Coordinator at ArtsWave.