Monday, April 15, 2013

PROOF at HSU: The Director

Michael Thomas has made theatre his career. He’s executive director of North Coast Repertory Theatre, where he most recently directed David Mamet’s American Buffalo. At HSU he’s directed M. Butterfly and Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig. But in high school, he loved mathematics.

 “I got as far as Advanced Placement calculus,” he confessed. “I loved math because it’s clean—you do the steps, a-b-c, you get an answer, and it’s either right or it’s wrong. Math is cool and it’s beautiful.”

 But college level calculus was as far as he got before he turned to what he called “this artsy stuff, where your heart and your opinions matter.”

 Still, in describing the artistic ambiguities of Proof, he stated his thesis and backed it up with a 1-2-3-4 series of arguments. Kind of like, well...a proof.

 “The story is about a young woman and her validation in pretty clear-cut areas. Area 1: As a woman, can she have a relationship? Can she be accepted by Hal, this man she’s interested in? Can she be a whole person? That’s validation.”

 “Area 2: Is she a real mathematician? She’s untrained but she seems to have incredible ability. But can she be validated as a mathematician? ‘Here is my work: validate me.’” 

“Area 3: Her relationship with her father. Has she been a good daughter? Did she do the right thing in how she took care of him? Was she right to keep him at home instead of in an institution? She needs validation.”

 “Area 4: Her relationship with her sister. Her sister Claire is afraid Catherine is going to become mentally unstable like their father. Claire’s mission is to move Catherine to New York where she can take care of her, whether Catherine wants it or not. Catherine needs her sister to believe in her: validation.”

 “These are the four areas she is exploring in the play, looking for answers, looking for validation.” But unlike math, life—and this play—rarely provides one right answer.

 “I don’t think the playwright spells out the answers entirely. He leaves things open. Instead the playwright creates these very believable characters, and in most cases, very likable characters. He gets us to root for Catherine right away. He gets us involved. He shows us their lives at a pivotal moment and presents these questions. Not everybody is going to answer them in the same way. He gives the audience things to think about, even after the show. What more can you ask from an evening of theatre?”

 “This play is written a way that seems real. The language is easily understood, but it brings out the various sides of the characters. We get sucked in very quickly. It’s also efficient—it gives us just enough information to get us to care, and to keep the story moving. Just enough information to get us to use our imaginations, to think about these people. The playwright invites the audience in, to care.”

 You know, feelings and opinions and that artsy stuff.

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