St. Thomas Players offer a challenging ‘Proof’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 30, 2009

St. Thomas Players production opens Aug. 6
The St. Thomas Players, the drama troupe of Center for Faith and the Arts, is gearing up for its second production of the summer: “Proof,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn.
Craig Kolkebeck directs a four-member cast, including Dana Neelis, Bob Paolino, Michelle Fleshman-Cross and Christopher Herring.
The play is the story of an enigmatic young woman, Catherine, her manipulative sister, their brilliant father and an unexpected suitor.
They are all pieces of the puzzle, in search of the truth behind a mysterious mathematical proof.
Catherine is grieving over the loss of her father, a famous mathematician who had suffered dementia. Just as she begins to give in to her fear that she might suffer from her father’s condition, her older sister Claire returns home to help “settle” family affairs, and Hal, one of the mathematician’s old students, starts to poke around the house. What Hall discovers in an old notebook brings to light a buried family secret.
The discovery tests the sisters’ kinship, as well as the romantic feeling growing between Catherine and Hal.
To help the actors prepare for their roles, Kolkebeck invited Dr. Sharon Sullivan, a mathematics professor from Catawba College, to speak on her profession and the nature of mathematicians and their world with the cast of “Proof.”
Kolkebeck also researched the aspect of genius as it relates to madness.
In two scenes of the play, Robert (played by Paolino) has to slowly fall apart.
“He is fully aware of his mental decline, yet has no way to turn back,” Kolkebeck says.
Catherine, Robert’s daughter (played by Neelis) is left to wonder if she will face a similar fate.
Kolkebeck says that working with Paolino and Neelis ó “two very talented actors” ó has been a joy.
“Both Bob and Dana have been hitting emotional levels that I have never seen them reach in other productions. Those who are fans of their work as well as those seeing it for the first time are in for a real treat.”
The whole cast, he says, including assistant director Christin Duncan, is “a true ensemble.”
“Every director hopes when casting that he or she is finding the right ingredients to cause an ensemble. The reality of truly getting one is rare.”
Directing this play ó his first St. Thomas Players effort ó has been a wonderful experience, Kolkebeck says.
“Sometimes, the suggestions I give are tried immediately. Sometimes, the cast comes back the next evening with something totally new and exciting. It’s so obvious that they don’t leave this process at the door when they walk out of the theater at night.”
Paolino is excited to be working with Kolkebeck.
“Craig is brilliant,” says Paolino, who shared the stage with Kolkebeck in the play “American Buffalo,” performed in Charlotte.
“He’s a very thorough and very insightful director. He brings more out of the actors and script than I’ve seen anybody do.”
The playwright, David Auburn, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama with the premier of this play in 2000. It was later made into a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Christin Duncan is assistant director/stage manager. Kolkebeck is responsible for scenic design and Herring for lighting design.
“Proof” will be performed at the Florence Busby Corriher Theatre at Catawba College.
Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6-8 and 12-15, with one Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Aug. 9
Wednesday is “Bring a Friend for Free” night ó two tickets for the price of one.
Tickets are $10 at the door.
For more information, call 704-647-0999.
“Proof” is sponsored by Bill and Shari Graham.