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Published: Thursday, 1/13/2005

Rep's 'Proof' is close to perfect

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Simply marvelous.

The Toledo Repertoire Theatre's production of Proof sets the standard for community theater performances so far this season.

To succeed, David Auburn's play, which runs through Jan. 23 on the Tenth Street Stage, must have an actress of strong skills as its central character.

The Rep has cast Michelle Sullivan, and she owns the stage.

From the first electrifying scene to the final satisfying one, Sullivan makes no misstep in her portrayal of Catherine, the younger daughter of a brilliant mathematician who, somewhere along the way, lost his mind.

Catherine has no social life, no world outside her shabby home near the University of Chicago, where her father, Robert, once was a pre-eminent member of the faculty.

When he began to descend into mental illness, Catherine, a promising mathematician herself, gave up her plans to care for him. Outside of her father, her life, if you can call it living, consists of staying up late, sleeping late, reading magazines, and watching television.

It is only when Robert produces a bottle of cheap champagne for Catherine's 25th birthday and urges her to go out and have fun do we learn the truth.

Robert has died, and tomorrow is his funeral.

It's a fascinating scene, thanks to Sullivan and Peter Mackey, who plays Robert with droll humor and a sure sense of the man he must have been before his madness.

Robert will appear several more times in the play, both in Catherine's fantasies and in flashbacks. He is as much a part of Catherine's future as Claire, her sister, and Hal, a graduate student who is going through the more than 100 notebooks that Robert scribbled in during his madness.

What is exceedingly satisfying about Proof is that all of the characters are fully drawn. They are, by turns, funny, irritating, secretive, and uncertain. In a word, they are human.

At first, the "uncertain" description doesn't seem to apply to Claire (Kat Pierson), who has flown in from New York for the funeral.

She brings along a dress for her sister and some new shampoo. She makes breakfast and serves Catherine coffee - with milk, even though Catherine takes it black. She is determined to take her sister back to New York, where Catherine can get a "cute" apartment and see the finest doctors (if she wants to).

See, Claire believes Catherine is showing signs of their father's illness, something that Catherine herself is deathly afraid of.

Hal (Matthew Bowland) isn't afraid; he's obviously attracted to the younger woman. Or does he just want more access to her father's papers to help him make a name for himself in the field of mathematics? For a long while, it's a toss-up which is the case.

Claire, frankly, isn't very likable, and Hal, frankly, is. But as the play progresses, the reasons for their behavior make them far more complex than they first seem.

Brad Faust directs his excellent cast with a sure hand. Pierson 's Claire is loving but too officious. Bowland's Hal matures from an awkward onlooker to a gentle lover, and Mackey is funny and exasperating all at the same time.

But Sullivan is a marvel, whether she's playing Catherine at a depressed 25 or full-of-life 21, happy and in love or furious and betrayed.

Proof is worth seeing for her performance alone.

Lucky us. There are plenty other reasons packed into this wonderful play.

"Proof" continues at 8 p.m. today-Saturday and Jan. 20-22, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 23. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors. Information: 419-243-9277.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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