Last night, an opportunity presented itself for me to witness one of my favorite stories brought to life on the Toronto stage. So how could I turn away from that? Walking down through my favorite area of “The Six,“…Queen St East, on a crisp Thursday evening, I was surprised to know that this theatre existed, despite this being a place I often frequent. But there it was…the Red Sandcastle Theatre.
I walked through the signature red entrance, and inside the magic began. New theatre company, Theatre UnBlocked; lead by their creator and producer Carina Cojeen, have decided to bring the public a show that not only has a high degree of relevance today and relatable to many aspects of life, but is a Tony Award winning play and Pultitzer Prize winner also. This show is none other than the wonderful and thought provoking, “PROOF,” which plays from March 9-March 19 2017.
As the lights dim around us, and centre on the stage, we are introduced to our lead character, Catherine (Karen Slater). It’s Catherine’s 25th Birthday and she sits alone in her house. However, unlike many twenty-five year old girls on their birthday, she is in no mood to celebrate. Celebrate what? All the years lost? All the years spent in the shadow of her genius, mathematician father? Or possibly all the time spent caring for the genius, when he began to lose his mind, by the ravages of mental illness.
We soon are told that her father Robert (Dan Willmott) has died a week earlier and her older sister Claire (Andrea Irwin) is on her way home from Manhattan to Chicago for the funeral. But when she returns, what she finds is an empty shell of a girl once full of life and ambition. Despite having inherited much of her father’s mathematical knowledge and thinking, she fears that she has inherited his history of mental illness also. And she is not the only one who thinks so…her sister feels the same her.
Catherine’s erratic and unstable behavior don’t help to challenge this mental diagnosis, as we watch her sudden outbursts towards her sibling and witness her paranoia regarding her father’s ex-student Hal (Chris Peterson) in his struggle to decipher her father’s final math notes, theories and equations.
Here is a girl; who against her sibling’s advice, decided to take care of her father at home, rather than entrust his care to a facility. Here is a girl, who had to give up her own career to ensure the memory of her father’s one, would not be tarnished by the stigma of mental illness. But most of all, here is a girl, who has been left to fend on her own and through these unfortunate circumstances, has developed a distrust for the outside world.
But everything changes when Hal uncovers a hidden journal, believed to be Robert’s final works. Inside a theory, an equation and a solution to one of mathematics hardest problems. But confusion soon surrounds this discovery. Is this Proof that Robert was not as crazy as people may have thought? Or is Catherine the true author of this ground-breaking discovery. Is she capable of doing such a thing? Where is the PROOF?
To prevent spoilers, I will tell you all no more.
However, one thing I can say is that the play is absolutely fantastic. As producer of her inaugural production for Theatre UnBlocked, Carina Cojeen along with wonderful director Carl Jackson, have put together a wonderful adaption of this well-known play; putting their own stamp on an interesting story-line.
The set was simplistic and intimate, creating a feeling of audience involvement in the performance. I personally love sets like this because it not only feels like you are experiencing the action up-close, but it allows unforgettable acting performances to shine through.
In terms of the acting ability, the performances were second to none. Karen Slater who played our female protagonist Catherine, was a joy to watch and captivated the theatre-goers. She portrayed her character with such passion and determination…making it a believable and natural performance.
Dan Willmott was delightful as father Robert, and easily won the audience over with his take on the loving character, who was the perfect example of both brains and heart.
Andrea Irwin was outstanding as the uptight sister, Claire, and brought to life a character who I related to quite a bit. She became her character in every way; full of grace and poise, but with a hidden fun-factor.
Finally, Chris Peterson was brilliant as the charming and endearing Hal. He succeeded in depicting the determined nature of his character, in his relationship with both academia and his attraction to our leading lady.
Although mental health topics can be seen as a somewhat dark area, David Auburn’s play PROOF, is the perfect challenge to this opinion. It is filled full of humor, especially through the sisterly tension, which will have you chuckling throughout. But it also opens your mind to other possibilities. Proof shows the impact of instability within the family unit. It highlights the struggle of not only the sufferer but the people around them, who have to witness the changes brought by these debilitating diseases. It can bring people together or tear them apart. And sometimes in the darkest of moments, can you finally see the situation for what it truly is. An opportunity to grow, learn and become stronger from.
This play debuted on Broadway in 2000, and as mentioned before, has won several awards and recognition. So much so, that in 2005 a movie adaption starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal graced the silver screen.
So if you want to see this touching and though provoking play on the Toronto theatre scene, get down to the RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE on 922 Queen Street East from MARCH 9-19.
Tickets can be purchased at the theatre on the night, but to avoid disappointment, can be purchased in advance online, by clicking http://theatreunblocked.brownpapertickets.com/.
This is a show that should not be missed. Have a break from your hectic schedule and relax. What better place than at this lovely show? Surrounded by all the wonderful restaurants, cafes and bars that Queen St has to offer, it will help to top of a memorable night.
***Stay Tuned for a follow up interview with producer Carina Cojeen, and hear her take on this incredible play, and what she has in store for us in the future***
(Production Photography courtesy of Bruce Peters)