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THEATER REVIEW

Company offers `Proof' of high quality

October 18, 2006|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

No excuses, now. Not if honest-to-goodness, in-the-moment live acting still holds any value in this "I'll just rent it through Netflix" world.

"Proof," the play that swept the 2001 drama awards -- winning the Tony and the Pulitzer, among other prizes -- has returned in a riveting production that digs deep to elicit laughter, gasps and tears. Yes, David Auburn's drama has been performed in the area several times before and, sure, it's been made into a movie you can watch at home in your jammies. But this McCoy Rigby/La Mirada Theatre presentation blows the socks off the bland national touring version that played here in 2002 and has the advantage of providing communal, cathartic release even when compared to the 2005 film, with its much-admired performance by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Mandy Freund anchors the production as 25-year-old Catherine, who's spent years caring for her mentally ill math genius father. She's fiercely intelligent, perhaps even a math master in her own right, but she's never had a chance to shine because of her father's fame (as a man who made major contributions to three fields before his mid-20s) and his illness.

As the story begins, Catherine has slipped into a somnambulist state. Freund -- whose recent credits have included playing the young nun in Pasadena Playhouse's production of "Doubt" and Laura in Colony Theatre's "The Glass Menagerie" -- portrays her with blinking eyes and a lethargy that leave one to wonder: Does she have the strength to pull out of this?

This state of disrepair leaves Catherine and those around her to worry that she has inherited her father's madness. The situation worsens when Stacy Barnhisel, portraying Catherine's older sister, Claire, swoops in from her successful life out of town to try, too late, to save the day. Affecting a sunny but forced calmness, Barnhisel treats Freund's Catherine as though she's already crazy. Freund's porcupine quills go up and her vinegary personality turns to pure acid.

But it's more than Catherine can bear when Chris Conner, portraying Hal, the young math geek who's been hanging around to sift through the father's notebooks and, meanwhile, go sweet on the younger daughter, also seems to turn on her.

Conner compellingly conveys the heartbreak of a guy who realizes he's blown it. Having let Catherine down, he stands around with his hands jammed into his pockets, a look of abject misery on his face. James Harper completes the story's quartet as Robert, the "A Beautiful Mind"-style father who may or may not be physically present as he growls with concern, trying to prod Catherine along.

Precisely yet unobtrusively, director Brian Kite orchestrates all of this into what seems like real life unfolding in the Chicago backyard designed by Gary Wissmann, painted with golden, autumnal light by Craig Pierce.

Given her sacrifices, Catherine should have nothing left to prove. Yet in this crafty tale, she has everything to prove, and does so with surpassing grace.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Proof'

Where: La Mirada Theatre,

14900 La Mirada Blvd.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 29

Price: $37.50 and $45

Contact: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310, www.lamiradatheatre.com

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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