Scarvey review: Play is ‘Proof’ that theatre is alive and well in Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

By Katie Scarvey
St. Thomas Players theatre productions may be the best-kept secret in town.
Crowds are often sparse, unfortunately, for the thought-provoking shows put on by the drama troupe for Center for Faith and the Arts.
But it seems the secret may be out, if the opening night of “Proof” is any indication.
The Florence Busby Corriher Theatre was almost full last evening, and the audience delivered an enthusiastic standing ovation at end.
This seamless show is directed by Craig Kolkebeck in his first Salisbury production since moving to North Carolina in 2005.
Kolkebeck has assembled an incredible cast to perform this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn.
Dana Neelis is perfect in the role of Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant mathematician (Bob Paolino) who suffered from mental illness before his death.
An aspiring mathematician, Catherine worries that she has also inherited the seed of her father’s disease.
Paolino appears as Robert in flashback and inhabits the role in the way we’ve come to expect from him ó brilliantly.
Neelis brings great intensity to her role, in both the despair she feels over the possibility that she is heading down the tortured trail blazed by her father, and in the attraction she feels toward Hal, one of her father’s old students who has come to pore through his old notebooks, in the hopes of finding something valuable. Neelis also brings a wonderful droll humor to the part, which she plays magnificently.
Hal is played by Catawba College junior Chris Herring, who brings intelligence and warmth to the role. Watching him, I kept thinking that he seemed a charming hybrid of Jake Gyllenhaal and Jon Cryor. (I did not realize until later that Jake Gyllenhaal actually did play Hal in the movie version of “Proof.”)
There is great tension and chemistry between Neelis and Herring. The intimacy of the Florence Busby Corriher Theatre really heightens the effect of the one romantic scene between them, which feels entirely natural ó amazingly so.
Michelle Fleshman-Cross is excellent as Claire, Catherine’s manipulative sister, who may not be as smart as Catherine but who negotiates the world quite handily, understanding the importance of things like jojoba and roasted coffee beans.
Claire, as her name might suggest, believes she sees things clearly and that her role is to settle the family’s affairs. She’s convinced that Catherine needs help for what she seems to believe is a nascent mental illness; she decides to sell the family home and convince a reluctant Catherine to move to New York.
The play explores the mystery of who wrote a brilliant proof that is in Catherine’s possession ó she claims it’s her work. But is it?
Hal, for one, needs proof.
Kolkebeck, who has had a long career as an actor, is a fantastic director, and it’s nice to see him join the ranks of the other wonderful directors of St. Thomas Players productions.
The play continues tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Next week, performances are Wednesday, Aug. 12 through Saturday, Aug.15.
The Wednesday performance is “Bring a Friend for Free” night ó two tickets for the price of one.
Tickets are $10 at the door. Material is inappropriate for children.
For more information, call 704-647-0999.