CAT to nap after elegant ‘Proof’

Aug. 18, 2018 — Reading and writing were a breeze for me, but arithmetic was my nemesis. Algebra was anathema. Not so for the protagonist of “Proof.” Catherine (Cara Beere) is a mathematical wizard, but it scares her. It is her burden of proof.

“Proof,” a beautifully written play by David Auburn, scored accolades on Broadway in 2000 and was made into a movie in 2005. “Proof” takes the stage this weekend and next at Class Act Theatre (CAT), 509 Kingwood St., the final play in CAT’s three-year lifespan.

CAT’s closing is amicable. Proprietors Rosemary and David Lauria are setting off for new adventures, but their love for theater will surely bring them back to town.

The best stories are about human relationships, and “Proof” is about fathers and daughters, teachers and students, sibling rivalry and lusty romantic entanglements. While “Proof” is pockmarked with mathematics, it is not about math. There are no equations, theories or algorithms to memorize and no test to take.

CAT’s stage is transformed into the comfortable back porch of an old house on the campus of the University of Chicago.

Recently deceased Robert (David Lauria), Catherine’s father, was a mathematical genius, recognized far and wide, until he suffered a setback — incurable dementia. Like a dead man walking, Robert appears alive and well in flashbacks with Catherine who put her life on hold to care for him 24-7.

Father and daughter ramble about the old messy house, cold in winter with banging radiators, squabbling over too much pasta and borrowing tons of library books to find the alien code in the Dewey Decimal System. Even as they revel in each other’s company, Catherine is terrified that she’ll inherent his illness.

A remission in Robert’s dementia delights Catherine, who enrolls at Northwestern University to study math. But the reprieve doesn’t last, and in the most poignant moment in the play, we see Robert regress, sending him back to filling notebooks with gibberish and sending her back to care for him.

Catherine is 25 when her father dies. Her grieving is complicated — she is exhausted, depressed, angry and crabby. We share her visceral feeling by being glued to our seats.

When the tension becomes unbearable, Hal (Alex Grady) streams in like geeky sunshine. He is Robert’s former student, a young mathematician looking to make his own fame. He is reviewing Robert’s notebooks just in case there is something of value.

Eventually, Catherine loosens up and romance buds and consummates. Her bliss allows her to share a special notebook with her paramour.

The fourth character is Claire (Tamara Szalewski), Catherine’s sister, who arrives from New York for the funeral, to sell the house and to take Catherine away to Manhattan.

Catherine’s animosity is as palpable as her depression, while Claire treats Catherine with kid gloves as though she is as demented as their father.

The crisis comes after Hal reads the special notebook and discovers what he believes is Robert’s most elegant proof and Catherine says she wrote it — but neither Hal nor Claire think she is capable of such.

All four actors are brilliant, so intensely absorbed in their characters that we share their intimacy, and the world outside the theater ceases to exist.

Lauria, an acting powerhouse, proves once again with poetry and humor his command of a difficult character.

Beere, a Florence newcomer in her first major role, is astonishing, swirling a kaleidoscope of moody blues and unfulfilled dreams into memorable moments.

Grady performs with such enthusiasm that we relish his every entrance and long to hear his math geek rock band.

Szalewski is triumphant, skillfully underplaying the well-intentioned caretaker who doesn’t have a clue.

Coincidentally, Szalewski was featured in CAT’s first production, “Grace and Glorie,” and Grady played two characters in CAT’s hilarious “Sylvia.” It’s a sweet note of closure for this elegant theater.

Jim Wellington, versatile actor in numerous local productions, takes on the directing chores, proving his mastery of theater arts, even adding appropriate ambiance between the scenes with incidental minimal music by Philip Glass, other-worldly notes sprinkling numbers over the stage.

CAT’s final production is a glistening gem, but the proof is in the pudding. See for yourself.

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