TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – It’s a wonder how some plays catch hold.
“Proof” involves theoretical mathematics at its core.
And then there are matters of family, love, death, sex, academia, trust, bias, depression, attitude, intelligence and sanity.
Playwright David Auburn distilled that bundle and earned the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Broadway Tony Award.
At the Forst Inn for seven more performances, a highly experienced cast with robust direction by Lisa Heili is grabbing the heavyweight material and delivering with impressive vigor.
Elizabeth Szyman portrays Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant University of Chicago professor (Dan Sallinen) who has gone crackers.
The play starts when Catherine is 25.
She is worn down by years of caring for her father on her own.
Catherine has set aside her studies in mathematics while her father has scribbled notebook after notebook of “math equations” – all gibberish.
Locked away in another drawer is another notebook. When the drawer is opened, out comes a revelation.
The play is about that and more.
Catherine is hard.
She has an attitude from that steeliness – and being a smart, headstrong woman accustomed to conquering challenges on her own and not afraid to give anybody what-for.
Her tongue is a sword, and she swings it freely at her sister, Claire (Carrie Todd Counihan), and one of their father’s proteges, Hal (Thomas Moore).
The acting is splendid all around.
Elizabeth Szyman is at the fore. She creates a strong, willful, gifted, sensual, thorny, somewhat shattered being who sometimes is soft. Catherine is a hand full.
Elizabeth Syzman’s performance provides great stuff to work off of for Carrie Todd Counihan as the seemingly caring sister with ulterior motives up both sleeves… for Thomas Moore as the mathematician with manipulative ways of getting into Catherine’s house, head and, eventually, heart… and for Dan Sallinen as the multi-edged father with the ingredients that fuel Catherine’s admiration, affection and exasperation.
Scene after scene clicks among the four.
Lisa Heili’s direction extends to the eye in the creation of the family flower-splashed front porch in Chicago and to the ear in the additions of atmospheric original music by Joey O’Connor that sometimes includes scene-setting words – plus songbird chirps that place the audience pleasantly outside.
The title “Proof” carries two meanings. One refers to a mathematical proof – a research goal aspired to by professorial types. Catherine’s father scored big with a profound proof while young. The other meaning has to do with “prove what you say.” Catherine’s in-your-face way with her mouth has put her in a conundrum that finds her questioning her sanity.
The Forst Inn Arts Collective production proves – again – that high-level material can be acted and presented splendidly in a small theater in rural Wisconsin. The “Proof” actors are committed.
Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. May 13-14; 2 p.m. May 15; 7:30 p.m. May 26-28; 2 p.m. May 29
Creative: Playwright – David Auburn; stage direction and design – Lisa Heili; original music – Joey O’Connor; voice recording – “Yankee Tavern” cast, Bob Heili; photography – Tessa Komorowski Jindra
Cast (in order of appearance):
Robert – Dan Sallinen
Catherine – Elizabeth Szyman
Hal – Thomas Moore
Claire – Carrie Todd Counihan
NEXT (main stage): “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang, June 10-12, 16-18, 23-26.
THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area. A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.