Chuck Smith directs Proof at Goodman Theatre

Rarely do we encounter a playwright whose work is so universal that casting only requires the expertise of fine actors. Chuck Smith, associate director at the Goodman, made this discovery when first seeing the play. Growing up in Hyde Park, Smith immediately identified with the characters, the setting, and theme based on the Mathematics Department of the University of Chicago. He attended school with the children of professors, and his program notes include a photograph of his eighth grade class. Speaking to him following the performance, I found his satisfaction with the entire project was obvious.

The drama behind the scenes came during rehearsals. Originally cast as Robert, Andre DeShields left the show after two weeks for an opportunity to star in Primates opening on Broadway. Stepping in to take the role, Phillip Edward VanLear gives a stellar performance. As Smith said, “This is the test of a true professional.”

Having seen Proof at New American Theater, I thought an African-American cast might give it a different interpretation. Not true. The strength of the work makes it appropriate for any accomplished actor, and Smith’s choices are excellent. Karen Aldridge is Catherine, her father’s caretaker and an accomplished mathematician. Her work, hidden in a desk drawer, comes to light after her encounter with Hal (Dwain A. Perry), who is examining the hundreds of notebooks in Robert’s study following his death. Ora Jones as Claire, the perfect sister, arrives for the funeral and takes over.

Intellectually challenging, Proof piques the interest of anyone who is aware of the dedication of problem solvers. The tragedy of Robert’s mental illness reminds us of A Beautiful Mind. Playwright David Auburn received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best American Play for Proof. Both NAT and the Goodman should be complimented for choosing such an outstanding work for their current seasons. Seeing the Chicago production reinforced my appreciation for the cast and direction of Jeff Christian at NAT. Staging a sure thing, Joseph and Crowns fill every seat, but we need Proof to titillate the brain cells. Playing through May 2, in Goodman’s Owen Theatre, tickets are available at (312) 443-3800.

The Fall to Earth–a dark

work at Steppenwolf

Death and complex family relationships dominate the stage in Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson’s The Fall to Earth. Rondi Reed (Fay) and her daughter Rachel, played by Cheryl Graeff, arrive in a small town to make the final arrangements for son and brother, whom we later discover has committed suicide. Though listed in Chicagoplays as a comedy, there was little to engender laughter.

A domineering mother, subtly revealing a tendency for abuse, a daughter whose anger overwhelms, and a son with homosexual propensities combine to make The Fall to Earth 95 minutes of angst. Reed and Graeff interact, and we discover nothing has changed since childhood. Reed’s draining performance leaves the audience limp. Sarah Charipar is Terry, a local policewoman, informing the family of the details. Her character does little to advance the plot. The Fall to Earth was developed through Steppenwolf’s New Play Initiative.

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