Daily Pilot

'Proof' positive in powerful Playhouse production

By Tom Titus for Daily Pilot

The proof of a play's production value lies in the number of times it's produced by neighboring theater companies once its rights are available. David Auburn's "Proof" is enjoying a fourth local production and another one is in rehearsal.

The current incarnation of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner is being played out at the Costa Mesa Playhouse with one of the strongest casts yet under the brilliant direction of Michael Serna. It's a must-see, even if you've already witnessed one or two other versions.

"Proof" deals with mathematics - a turn-off for many playgoers, including this one - but Auburn's characters are so distinctly drawn and fervently interpreted that one doesn't need to be a math nerd (as such characters are labeled) to be blown away by the power of its writing and, at Costa Mesa, its extraordinary acting.

The play centers around Catherine, a young Chicago woman who has just recently lost her father, a legendary math genius who descended into madness in his later years. Has she inherited his soaring talent or his disturbing mental condition - or, perhaps, both?

One would wonder as much in the opening scene when she carries on a long conversation with the old man a few days after his death. Yet her character is so strong and vital that she may even have surpassed him in mathematical genius.

Bringing this conflicted and complex character to fierce and throbbing life is Darcy Porter in a performance of extraordinary dramatic voltage. She broods, she loves and she blazes new trails in her field with a fervent zeal seldom encountered in local theater. Porter's is a professional-level performance on a community theater stage.

As Hal, the determined math researcher who revered her father and becomes entangled with her, Ben Green takes his second crack at this dynamic role (his first being a few years ago in Huntington Beach). Green unearths many facets of his character, from awkward suitor to determined researcher, with skill and dexterity.

The elder mathematician, who appears to Catherine once as a ghost and twice in flashback, is solidly interpreted by playhouse stalwart Mike Brown in a performance marked by powerful volatility. Brown alternately offers sage advice and breaks into Lear-esque rages (on such topics as pasta) while attempting to program his daughter's career path.

Rounding out the cast is Catherine's older and more pragmatic sister, Claire, who is determined to sell the run-down Chicago house and move Catherine to New York with her, against her sister's wishes. Elizabeth Ginnett Cox deftly projects the lone instance of normalcy in a company of "numbers people" and thus comes off as the heavy, even though her intentions are quite positive.

The rustic-looking backyard setting, also designed by Serna, is perfect for this production, reflecting a "lived-in" quality from ages past. Ryan Linhardt's subtle lighting effects support the show beautifully. Serna's frequent dramatic pauses serve the show superbly.

You may have experienced "Proof" in other local venues, but you'll be shaken to the core all over again by the exceptional rendition of this highly honored drama at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Proof"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St. Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 30

Cost: $16 - $18

Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.CostaMesaPlayhouse.org