Court Theatre's PROOF Is Mesmerizing

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Reviewed by: MELODY UDELL

You don’t need to be a math genius to understand that something brilliant is going on in Hyde Park. Director Charles Newell has staged a stripped down, emotionally potent production of David Auburn’s searing 2001 play, Proof — a psychologically complex show that demands strong performances from all four characters. Luckily, that’s exactly what you’ll find on stage at the Court Theatre.

Chaon Cross, playing a tortured yet gifted 25-year-old who dropped out of college to care for her mentally unstable father, is a stand-out performer in this cast of, well, stand-out performances. Her Cathy is deeply troubled; she’s terrified of inheriting her father’s unexplained madness along with his talent for mathematics. (A revered U of C professor, he made not just one but two industry-altering contributions to the field before his 24th birthday.) And she can neither deny her own talent nor accept the deterioration in mental health that might come along with it. Heredity, it turns out, is a crapshoot.

Cathy’s uptight Manhattanite sister, Claire (Megan Kohl), who has provided familial support from a safe distance, comes to whisk Cathy away following the death of their father. Kohl resists stereotype to show us a truly conflicted Claire, an older sister who knows she needs to care for the grieving Cathy but is sadly unable to reach her on her own level.

Playing the father is

no easy task, but Kevin Gudahl’s Robert easily treads that fine line of sage brilliance and frightening instability. It’s easy to see why Cathy has such polarity toward her father; she’s both his biggest admirer and his most exasperated student, even after his death.

Complicating Claire’s plans to uproot her sister is Hal (Erik Hellman), the nerdy-sexy doctoral student who is drawn to Cathy’s brilliance and fragility. The two discover an elegant, staggeringly brilliant mathematical theorem (called a proof) in Robert’s desk, despite the fact that he spent his remaining, deluded days filling dozens of notebooks with pure gibberish. But as trusts are misplaced and stakes are revealed, it’s this proof that threatens to tear apart Cathy’s relationships with Hal and Claire.

Every tense sense in the play takes place on the weathered back porch of Cathy and Claire’s childhood Hyde Park home — a stunningly simple yet enormously effective set designed by Martin Andrew. Newell’s decision to strip the show down to a few key elements — a cleansing shower, subtle yet effective lighting — lets the performers truly shine. And with such a smart, compelling script and a wholly talented cast, Proof equates to a truly mesmerizing, utterly engrossing show.

Proof runs through April 14, 2013 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago.  Tickets range from $45-$65 and can be purchased at the theater box office located on the campus at , by phone at 773-753-4472 or online at  For calendar information, please visit