Life is complicated enough the way it is, so why even bother likening it to mathematics?
Because when you do, the relationships that spring from it are beautifully complex and, in the case of “Proof,” a show in its last weekend at the Olde Brick Theater, incredibly realistic.
“Proof” tells the story of a young woman, Catherine (Mollie Dooley), and her father Robert (Robert Balitski), a renowned math professor who is dealing with dementia. As she takes care of him, her relationships in her life become strained, including those with her sister Claire (Liz Naro) and a budding romance with one of her father’s former students, Hal (Casey Thomas).
“There’s a romance in this plot arc, there’s a resolution with genius and dementia and how we prove ourselves to the people that we love, and the plot device is a mathematical proof that’s discovered in this family – and you wonder whether it was the father or the daughter who created it,” said Alex DeVirgilis, the show’s director.
DeVirgilis likens “Proof” to an Arthur Miller play, with “so much emphasis on family and so much detail in the constructs of family relationships.” He also said the dialogue has “perfect realism” to it.
“The romance between the young leads is something of a nerdy romance,” DeVirgilis said. “They’re math majors, so [writer David] Auburn plays with that, has fun with this delightful awkward tension of nerds in love. It’s cute, endearing, genuine, and layered.”
There are also many layers to the conflict between sisters.
“Claire is kind of the bad guy,” DeVirgilis said. “But really, what it comes down to is that you have two different family members that have two different views on how to deal with the problem – in this case their father – and nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong, but you’ve got conflict.”
The cast is small and the set is simple but, sometimes, less is certainly more.
“I go to New York every year to watch some off and off off-Broadway shows because that’s where artistic choices aren’t limited, and I’ve always been very impressed with the acting. I have to say, the acting that I’m watching as I’m directing this exceeds some of what I’ve seen in those New York shows. Our cast is spectacular.”
He spoke very highly of Molly.
“She’s gifted with a tremendous amount of expression, a very expressive face,” DeVirgilis said. “The character goes through the spectrum several times, and she does that so well.”
DeVirgilis said that there are many layers at play in all of the relationships on stage, and actors must be attuned to each of them.
“The actors are working a balance of emotions that has to be easy for the audience to see.”
DeVirgilis said he hasn’t “directed so much as guided” his cast, whose visions of their characters are very much in sync with his vision.
“It’s more about helping them project nuance at this point,” he said. “I spend a lot of time moving around the theater making sure the people who sit in the back row are getting as good of a show as the people sitting in the front row.
“Really, a good director should know when to just get out of the way and let things happen when there’s such a great cast in front of him.”