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‘Proof’ positive in White Rock Players show

REVIEW: Quirky family drama an impressive theatrical experience
Natalie Peters as Catherine, with David Peters as Robert in David Auburn’s Proof, latest production of White Rock Players Club at the Oceana PARC Playhouse. The play runs until Sunday, May 5. (Contributed photo)

David Auburn’s Proof, current production of the White Rock Players Club at Oceana PARC Playhouse, provides ample ‘proof’ that quality community theatre doesn’t depend on underestimating the intelligence of the theatre-goer.

The witty — yet profound — play, excellently acted under the sure and sensitive guidance of director Lori Tych (well known in the community as a talented actor, herself), is a must-see for those looking for more than baby formula in their theatrical diet.

The good news is there is still time to catch this impressive theatrical experience before it closes on Sunday (May 5).

Don’t be intimidated that the play is partly about the unpredictable occurrence of genius among human beings — and how it’s at odds with living everyday life in a ‘normal’ world where the biggest question of the day may be what to have for supper.

Thankfully, there are no math pop-quizzes in Auburn’s Pulitzer prize-winner, a story of eccentric, once-brilliant professor Robert (David Peters), whose manic delusions derailed his career at the University of Chicago, and have stalled the academic aspirations of his daughter, Catherine (Natalie Peters).

Instead, there are deeper, more relatable questions — such as the right of an individual to assert their own identity, whether or not it meets the approval of others. On a fundamental level, Auburn poses the question of whether we are required to furnish proof of our own validity.

READ ALSO: Father-daughter team sparks White Rock play

In her mid-20s, Catherine wrestles with depression on a daily basis. Confined to a caregiver role with her erratic parent, she feels unable to move forward with her own life or take the educational opportunities open to her. She has few doubts about her own grasp of theoretical mathematics but has overwhelming fears that her gift comes at the price of the same kind of instability that has challenged her father.

Her fears are shared by her pragmatic older sister, Claire (Aurora Chan). Not possessed of the same gifts, Claire is driven to push the reclusive Catherine to engage with the ‘real’ world — while wondering, at the same time, whether it might not be wiser to find her professional help.

Also entering the equation is Hal (Santiago Henao), a young mathematics teacher formerly mentored by Robert during a one-year period when lucidity returned, permitting him to teach again.

Hal seems to have his feet squarely in both worlds. While he understands the finer points of math, he also understands he will never be able to produce work on the same level as Robert — the kind of work, he says, that would allow him to “write his own ticket” in any faculty across the country.

Allowed access to Robert’s papers for a brief time, he prowls through the professor’s old notebooks looking for a proof’ worthy of publication…

Anchoring this notable production, full of echoes and contradictory impulses, is the heart-wrenching realism of Natalie and David Peters’ performances as Catherine and Robert.

It’s a gift for director Tych that they are father and daughter in real life, lending authentic intimacy to their characterizations — but, with her gentle, supportive guidance, both have taken that gift and run with it.

David Peters, who has a naturally oddball comedic flair, is endearingly quirky as Robert. But at the same time he succeeds in delving deeper — suggesting all the internal pain of someone who has realizes he is perpetually walking a line between delusion and inspiration.

Natalie Peters — already noted locally as an actor of rare intelligence and dedication to digging deep into each of her characters — has a field day with the complexities of Catherine.

The cathartic emotional journey of Proof would be worth taking if only for one of this duo’s touching scenes: in a flashback, Catherine finds her father sitting outside their home, as the snow of a bitter Chicago winter swirls down, furiously scribbling a new proof in one of his many exercise books.

After a hopeful period in which he was able to function again, it’s clear Robert is slipping back into the old patterns.

It’s a heart-breakingly real moment vividly realized by both actors, as Robert begins to grasp his confusion, and Catherine, shivering in the cold, discovers her father’s exciting new ‘theory’ is gibberish, dashing all her plans for the future.

Throughout Proof, Natalie Peters manages to hit every note of Catherine’s inner conflicts — her passivity and yet her anger at being stuck in her situation; her love for her outspoken father and yet her infuriation with his detachment from reality; her fondness for her sister and yet her deep resentment of her independent life in New York; her attraction to Hal, yet her suspicion of his motives and fear of betrayal.

As Hal, Henao is an appealing young actor of considerable promise, with an array of realistic responses and gambits at his command. While he sometimes works a little too hard at them, he succeeds in conveying the character’s nerdy charm and awkward, often misunderstood, enthusiasms.

As Claire, Chan’s performance is also appealing and assured, but more traditional and slightly less organic than that of her castmates. She well suggests the key point — that, underlying Claire’s apparent insensitivity, is deep concern and affection for her sister — but there were a few occasions when I felt she was following direction rather than existing in the moment.

Alaina Holland’s inspired set design strips the porch of Robert and Catherine’s house and the garden swing in the yard down to geometric basics, while Demetrios and Jennifer Georgeadis add atmosphere and context via projections of complex equations, evening skies, stars and falling snow.

The Oceana PARC Playhouse is located at 1532 Johnston Rd. Tickets are available at or 604-536-7535.

Alex Browne

About the Author: Alex Browne

Alex Browne is a longtime reporter for the Peace Arch News, with particular expertise in arts and entertainment reporting and theatre and music reviews.
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