By Mykael Hyman
The Department of Humanities’ simplistic production of Proof by David Auburn manages to delve past its mathematical facade to explore the more complex science of human relationships, as well as the complications of mental illness.
Penn State Harrisburg welcomed newcomer Maria Enriquez to the school’s theater scene. For Penn State Harrisburg’s first production, Enriquez chose Proof, the Tony Award winning play, which was also adapted into a feature film. The play only requires a cast of four and has only one setting, but the minimal use of space and set design allowed more focus on the character’s stories and the acting behind the drama.
Proof follows Catherine (Lexi Fazzolari,) a young bright woman who is struggling with the idea that she, like her mathematically renowned father, may succumb to mental instability. Throughout her ups and downs, Catherine frequently experiences flashbacks of the time she nursed her father, Robert (Joshua Gerstenlauer,) as well hallucinogenic encounters with the man who mentored her in mathematics.
Fazzolari gives a subtle performance that does the role justice by showing realism and charisma in a character that could easily be overly-melodramatic. Her performance stands out to be versatile, able to capture Catherine’s sinking feeling of spiraling into madness and depression, as well as the character’s moments of wittiness and joy.
Along Catherine’s journey of self-doubt, Catherine further becomes emotionally distressed by her sister, Claire (Stephanie Cosgrove,) and her newly found love-interest, Hal (Joseph Schwarz.) Though Cosgrove and Fazzolari’s profound chemistry shines through their characters’ sisterly banter, mixed matched skill levels start to unbalance when Hal, one of Robert’s students, enters Catherine’s life. Scenes, especially those of a romantic nature, between Fazzolari and Schwarz felt awkward, and their physical interactions ultimately became stiff unlike other relationships depicted in the play.
Gerstenlauer’s portrayal of Catherine’s mentally ill yet genius father, Robert, provides some of the most unique scenes in all of Proof, and balances the onset chemistry once again. After being absent from the play for most of Act one, Gerstenlauer and his gone-too-far character return to the story demanding stage presence, offering a dramatic high energy that was mostly missing in this production of Proof.
Even with some minor suspect acting and stiff blocking choices, many elements of Enriquez’s production work well considering this is the very first play to be shown in the school’s new auditorium located in the Student Enrichment Building. The backyard typed set combined with the play’s use of seasonal themed lighting effects makes for a gorgeous stage.
Enriquez’s production of Proof, the first play to be shown at the SEC, proves that Harrisburg’s mixture of fresh and experienced talent in the Humanities department this year shows the potential that the growing theater community on this campus has for the future.