Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Stage West gives prime production of 'Proof'

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This has been a stellar season for singer, dancer and actor Jessica Virginia at Stage West Community Playhouse. She was terrific as the cynical Velma Kelly in the blockbuster musical Chicago, and now she's scored another triumph as the troubled young Catherine in David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof, playing weekends through Feb. 19.

Ms. Virginia is simply brilliant as a daughter who has devoted her life to caring for her mentally ill father, and now that he's gone, wonders where her life will go from there.

But she's not the only bright light in this shining production. Director Patty Villegas' four-member cast is exceptional across the board: multi-HAMI Award-winning George Dwyer as Catherine's father Robert, a mentally unstable mathematical genius; Dan Brijbag as Robert's worshipful protege Hal; and Stage West newcomer Alyssa Stevenson as Catherine's over-protective and sometimes clueless sister Claire, who fled to New York City five years earlier for an exciting and lucrative career, leaving Catherine to cope with their quixotic father all by herself.

These four keep the tension alive throughout the 2 hour, 20 minute show, but it's not an exhausting tension; it's one that earns rapt attention and involvement and delivers a totally satisfying intellectual and emotional experience.

I advise arriving early and studying the timeline of the scenes listed in the program, so that you can clearly see what's a delusion and what's a flashback.

As the play unfolds, Robert has died, Claire is back home, urging Cathy to move to New York so she can keep an eye on her and Hal is rummaging through Robert's old notebooks, hoping to find something of value. And he does: a mathematical proof that will revolutionize the way the world thinks about prime numbers.

The question is: Who will take credit for the proof?

But that's not the meat of the show, it's just the skeleton. The substance is the relationships among these four and the issues brought up by Robert's death: sister rivalry, guilt and love; academic competition; physical attraction; emotional involvement; anger, blame, passion.

This is heavy, heady stuff, but the Stage West production handles it all with grace and seeming ease, with nary a misstep or lost opportunity to shed light on the inner workings of the characters' minds. The mood is enhanced by the interludes of music between scenes, chosen from recommendations by Dwyer, and by the dappled, moody lighting by Jeffrey Germann that sometimes leaves faces in shadows at key moments, but still does the job in the small Forum auditorium.

Though the subject matter is serious, without a laugh in sight, and the personal encounters gut-wrenching at times, this play is by no means a downer. It's just a great story told by a gifted playwright and performed at Stage West by a sublime group of actors.

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