If the Ensemble know how to do one thing really well it’s how to pick excellent pieces of international writing to flesh out their local works and season. David Auburn’s ‘Proof’ is such a play. It knows exactly how to surprise its audience and tilt the journey for its characters throughout the play. Sandra Bates as director hasn’t always managed to hit each moment but some very skilled efforts in acting, particularly from Matilda Ridgway, and a great design by Graham Maclean have given ‘Proof’ the substance it needs.
Let’s talk about where the gaping holes are and that lies squarely with the vocals. I know the minute we open the discussion on accents we’re in a catch 22. Some plays need accents (may I remind you of Ralph Myer’s direction of ‘Private Lives’ without them and how badly it suffered as a result) and some plays don’t (STC’s ‘Sex With Strangers’ case in point). Some directors want complete authenticity and some want to focus on their own agenda and not the natural author’s or characters’ voices. But here’s the thing- an accent done badly is always going to be a detractor from the bigger issues of the play. Unless it’s essential to the play, if your cast aren’t capturing that accent, let it go. I wish Bates had let the accent take a holiday from ‘Proof’. The audience would have forgiven it much more than suffer through bad accent work 101.
On the vocals, Michael Ross’ delivery as Robert was staccato and contrived. I could time the pauses for dramatic effect and in the end they actually halted some of the tension and given he has some of the best reveals in the play, he missed out on some potentially powerful moments.
On to the good. Matilda Ridgway (Catherine) was by far the strongest on stage. Ridgway knows sarcasm and isn’t afraid to use it and she is ably supported by Adriano Cappelletta (Hal) and Catherine McGraffin (Claire). The three of them had lovely moments especially when they could all occupy the stage together. I enjoyed the developing relationship between enthusiastic Hal and cynical Cathy and the contrast of sensible Claire and dishevelled Cathy. I wish Ross had relaxed into the role as Robert more so that the playful scenes between him and Ridgway could have served the later juxtaposition when we are completely aware of their history and dynamic as when he did, as in the start of Act II, they add so much more to the play.
Maclean’s set was impressive. The household ‘back porch of a house in Chicago’ became another character in this play and it felt like each character had scribbled their fears, hopes, future and past upon it. I am constantly impressed by the quality of the work of the designer s at the Ensemble in transforming that tiny space into a plethora of places and levels, eras and architecture.
‘Proof’ is a good solid outing and because the play itself is so good it was a pleasure to see it come to life on stage again. Although a little bumpy in rhythm and vocals at times, there is plenty to commend it. It even made me a little excited by the topic of mathematics and that’s saying something.