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"Proof," Huntington Beach Playhouse

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Well-directed, wonderfully acted, David Auburn's "Proof," directed by James Rice for the Huntington Beach Playhouse, shows how, in matters of the heart, the proof is in the concrete (actions, feelings behind the actions), not the abstract (words and, especially, numbers).

Set in Chicago, it's the story of Catherine (Courtney King) a young woman who, at 25, has spent a large part of her adult life caring for her father Robert (Robert Craig), a once brilliant, now dimming world-renowned mathematician

The exceptionally well-drawn characters resonate with anyone who's ever had to care for an elderly parent. Catherine's exactly like her father, brilliant but plagued with the demons that can accompany brilliance. Her sister Claire (Holly Baker-Kreiswirth) has inherited his facility with numbers (and makes a good living in New York as a currency trader) but none of his doubt. For her, life is linear, practical, logical; for Catherine and Robert, it's abstract and open-ended, likely to turn in on itself like a Mobius Strip. Hal (Ben Green), Robert's student and, eventually, Catherine's lover, tends to the brilliant side but he's cast in the shadow of the great man's brilliance. Though his doubt is more career-oriented, less existential than that of Catherine's, it is no less real.

King's Catherine more-than-ably embodies Rice's directorial vision of validation. With posture (slumped, seemingly lackadaisical) and a voice (at times manic, at times slow-motion) that belies her spinning though troubled mind, King portrays her as brilliant though plagued by the fear that not only has she wasted her academic prime caring for her father, but that she will inherit her father's mental instability. Her emotional Catherine is radiant though guarded. King shows how Catherine's wordly experience is abstract and thus, life-wise, she cannot look (or imagine) beyond the confines of her childhood home (Mathematics-wise, it's another story). She most notably conveys Catherine's vulnerability; it's this vulnerability (and her analytical mind) that makes her require concrete proof for everything: her self-worth, her feelings for Hal.

In the characters of Robert, Claire, and Hal, actors Craig, Baker-Kreiswirth, and Green effectively frame Claire's dilemma. With mercurial bluster, Craig encourages her at the same time her brings her down to the level of hausfrau, not the best remedy for low self-esteem. He gives her genes but he doesn't give her what she really needs, proof of her own self-worth. His impotent rage as he scribbles furiously in a notebook outside in subfreezing weather and King's mute disbelief when she reads what he's just written provides us with a magnificent theatrical moment.

Brutally efficient and condescending, with a voice that sounds like she's imperiously hailing a cab, Baker-Kreiswirth treats Claire like an embryonic version of her father, on the downward slope to senility. The physical contrasts of the two sisters are perfectly staged: one on the go, clear-headed, impetuous, the other paralyzed, muddled, and timid. Only at the end does Green's Hal, with his confused reaction to Catherine (Is she means to an end? Is she his true love?) give her the respect that she is due, but it comes at a cost: first he has to doubt her achievement (just as she doubts his intentions). The final scene -- at his behest, she explains her mathematical world-shaking discovery to him -- has to be seen to be believed.

Performances are 8pm, Thursday - Saturday, 2pm, Sunday. The show runs until June 12. The Playhouse is located at the Huntington Beach Central Library Theatre, 7111 Talbert Avenue, Huntington Beach. For more information call (714) 375-0696 or visit www.hbplayhouse.com.