BEDFORD — It is not a who dunnit, but there is a great deal of evidence examined in Onstage in Bedford’s solid production of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play, Proof.
The players here are not solving a crime, but are instead trying to sort out some thorny math problems. Catherine (Jennifer Fortson) is the somewhat troubled daughter of a noted math professor, Robert (Doug Fowler), who is a mix of brilliance and mental instability.
Navigating the frothy waters roiled by Catherine and Robert’s loving, but tempestuous, relationship are Catherine’s sister, Claire (Laura Saladino), and one of Robert’s students, Hal (Matthew Clark).
At issue are a number of notebooks cluttering the star mathematician’s run-down Chicago home. Are they hiding stunning breakthrough’s that just have to be decrypted, or are they filled with the random ravings of a mad man? And then there’s that one notebook that seems so much more important than all the rest.
Once these elements are put in place, the show becomes a cautious, competitive dance among its characters, where the emotional and professional stakes are extremely high. Like a jury that has not yet reached its verdict, the audience is left to wait for some truth to emerge from the conflicting evidence being tossed about. And what a delicious wait it is.
Director Lon Barrera has done a nice job of staging this intriguing drama. There are times when he tries too hard to inject movement into this inherently talky script, asking his actors to make moves that are not supported by the text. But bless him for putting that degree of effort into keeping the show visually interesting. And most of the decisions he makes are good ones.
Fortson carries the show well. She finds the elusive center of her highly complex character and never lets it go. Kudos to both her and Barrera for that.
Clark overplays the social awkwardness of his math grad student character a bit but, for the most part, he makes a good match for Fortson and handles his chores well.
Saladino play’s Catherine’s more level-headed and financially secure sister right down the middle, and the strategy works just fine. She makes her character unsympathetic, but does not allow her come off as just a priggish pain in the butt, as would be the temptation.
On the whole, Fowler is not as credible as he should be as Catherine’s father. But, in one crucial scene in the second act, he rises to the occasion so admirably that his performance also has to be considered a success.
Kevin Brown’s set appears to be too rural for its Chicago setting. But it is a gorgeous construction that Barrera and his players use to its maximum potential. And the script does provide some justification for the home’s humble look.
It is easy to see why this play from 2000 won so many awards. And this production lays out its evidence nicely.