I was lucky enough to catch the Pulitzer Prize winning play PROOF this September at the Courtyard Theatre London written by David Auburn. PROOF first debuted at Off-Broadway in 2000, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for Best Play in 2001. In 2005, it was adapted for the screen starring Gwyneth Paltrow opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Hopkins. There have also been stagings of this production at the Donmar and elsewhere in London. This version was directed by Brendee Green, produced by Benedict Lawrence and Sublime Universal and marks Green’s directorial stage debut. Pulitzer Prize Winning Play PROOF Is Brendee Green’s Directorial Debut. Proof by David Auburn marks a successful directorial debut for
Green’s version of the play adapted for the theatre is quite different to what has been previously made. She has put focus solely on the four main characters and their connections with each other in order to highlight the actors abilities. Her in-depth research of the play (and it’s mechanics) has enabled her to tell the story in a completely unique way, which is completely different to the original Broadway as well as the film adaptation. In a sense, she’s created this magical world and given the audience the key. She has made the directorial decision to have Rus Kallan playing Robert on stage althroughout, even during the scenes where he is dead. In doing this, Green has created a whole new meaning of the play. Catherine appears to “see dead people”.
The setting on the stage also designed by Green is also quite impressive In its minimalist right for this reason: the raw and simplistic structure beautiful light designs to suggest different times of day combined with different emotions. The costume design, also overseen by Green is quite impressive, and the actors changing in and out of them within seconds.
The four characters are Catherine (Michelle Alexandra) and Claire (Melissa Jean Woodside) who are sisters; Robert (Rus Kallan) is a mathematician and a father to the two sisters; and Hal (David Ogechukwu Isiguzo) is a former student of Robert.
Some of the minor details and choices struck me as odd initially. Casting wise, I was not sure if the age difference for Woodside to play Claire was convincing. I felt The girls appeared to be the same age. Over the course of the play Claire’s facial reactions and attitudes convinced me: I was convinced she cared for Catherine from a big sister’s point of view but at times the physicality lingered. Claire’s vitality was evident in her energy on stage. Likewise, I also wasn’t sure the casting of Hal at first. He is a rather big and muscular actor and I couldn’t help but wonder if he spends more time in the gym than reading mathematics due to his impeccable physique. Again, his performance won me over and let my pre-conceptualised judgments subside.
The play is meant to be about the relationship between Robert and his youngest daughter Catherine, but I feel it is more about the deeper, often conflicting underlying layers. In many ways I found the night was stolen by the very strong supporting cast: Kallan, Ogechukwu Isiguzo and Woodside who deliver such tour-de-force supportive performances, it is impossible for Alexandra to do anything other than a decent performance. In many ways, the three supportive cast members prop her up and create the pace and tone of the play.
Kallan’s portrayal of Robert was seamless and should be award winning. He flipped between chronological moments with ease. Often invoking feelings of happiness, sadness, followed by flawed logic and insanity. He also flipped between temperatures, feeling fine and then cold within moments of each other. At one point I looked at him shivering on stage and I was honestly convinced I was freezing, despite sitting in a heated theatre! Even though he was playing the role of a dead father, whom only his daughter could see, Kallan sat during the large portion of the play without any dialogues. Overlooking his daughters argue, and Catherine fall in and out of love with Hal, his reactions to all the events unfolding in front of him amazed me to see how an actor can keep up with the performance even without dialogues. This is magic and what theatre is all about. Kallan delivers one of my most favourite bits in the play: when Robert is at his lowest point, in a very pleading manner says to his daughter Catherine, ‘Please don’t leave me!’ The emotions run high and I wanted to give him a hug.
Woodside’s Claire was likewise very natural and like Kallan, she added comedic relief to an otherwise serious character. She alternates between delivering regal-like contained performances and moments of high energy stepford-wife style mania with ease. Woodside somehow manages to stand firm and capture the audience’s attention with monologues on coffee or conditione, while her sister wavers around her. I was mesmerized by her tone, voice and emphasis and felt she harmonised Catherine. She convinced me that they really are sisters as she wove in and out of Catherine’s sulking. Her body language was satisfying, in particular her use of air quotations in the wrong place (“are you” “sleeping” with him?). Her head-in-hands hangover was unexpected (yet welcome) and contrasted to her acting in the scenes earlier, and not to mention the hilariously inappropriate skin-revealing red silk Kimono with hair on head, which was a complete surprise for the audience who reacted with muffled and open giggles the second she appeared on stage.
Isiguzo’s performance was one of serious merit as well, in his relationship with the more senior, respected Robert, his love interest Catherine, and older supervisory sister Claire. Isiguzo was able to feel out the beats, and harmonize the other cast. He worked well with them, and treaded carefully when a less experienced actor may be inclined to go over the top. His performance was natural, subtle, and very beautiful. You could watch him falling in love with Catherine and his heart breaking with Claire in front of your eyes. Hal briefly succeeds in showing Catherine the freedom she’s never experienced before through love, but leaves the audience wondering – did he do this for his own selfish hidden agenda? The fact he was able to play such a three dimensional character with ease and make me leave with questions is very impressive. A memorable scene was when Claire was questioning Hal on stage about his sex life, with Robert looking on from the afterlife. It was very powerful and the chemistry between the three of them was superb. I found Hal extremely watchable.
Alexandra’s performance as Catherine, who is in a way an imperfect carbon copy of her own father, gave me a reason to believe that she is re-living her own father’s life. Her on stage chemistry opposite actor Isiguzo and her attraction towards him convinced me that they are in love. Although her part was quite serious throughout the play it was the comedic bits with the cast which gave her character a balance. Her acting appeared to be very rehearsed which enabled her to give a satisfying performance.
It is nearly impossible not to feel the emotions on stage from an audience seat. I wasn’t left unsatisfied, and felt that all lose ends were tied up by the end but I am left with other, more profound questions by the end. Does Claire miss another week of work and come back for her sister? Does Robert’s insanity re-appear in Catherine? Do Catherine and Hal last long? Emotions run high throughout the play. The dialogues are delivered with a lot of feelings, especially the monologues within the play. It is a play which is worth watching over and over again.
I can’t wait to see what Sublime Universal, the cast, and Brendee Green do next. They are all very talented and surely each of them to be monitored and watched closely.
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