Beginning Friday, Douglas County can see a Pulitzer Prize winning play on a local stage when Umpqua Community College’s Theatre Arts program opens “Proof” at the Centerstage Theatre.
“Proof” follows Catherine (Jesika Barnes) — the daughter of the recently deceased brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician Robert (Harry Gandy) — as she deals with the grief of her father’s death, the demands of her estranged sister and the beginning of a romantic relationship with one of her father’s former students. To complicate matters, Catherine begins to wonder if she too might be suffering from her father’s condition.
Catherine has spent the last four years taking care of her ailing father. Robert’s mental health has been declining since his early 20s, growing worse after the loss of his wife. For a brief time, Catherine was able to establish herself as a mathematical genius in her own right, but had to drop everything to once again take care of her father. Now at 25 years old, Catherine has began seeing signs that her mental health might also be failing.
“What’s so great about the first couple of scenes is every interaction you see Catherine having, you aren’t sure if it is real or if it’s her imagination,” Barnes said. “This includes her first interaction with Robert and her first interaction with Hal. Until Claire is there, then you can kind of see what’s there and what isn’t.”
Barnes found elements of Catherine that were easy to embrace, while others were harder for the actress to bring to life.
“A lot of the sister scenes come very naturally. I have two sisters that I am really close to, so finding the love in those moments but also being frustrated with them comes easily,” Barnes said. “Some of the really high emotions stuff took some work to get into, but it’s really been a treat to explore somebody who is so chaotic and on so many ends of the spectrum in terms of her emotions through the show. We see some really low lows and really explosive highs.”
Playing opposite of Barnes, Andrew Laniohan plays Hal, Robert’s biggest fan and former student. Laniohan describes Hal as a rollercoaster of a character.
“He is a very half complex kind of guy. He is very good at what he does and is all about the science of everything. It’s pretty much the only thing he trusts and yet he is thrown into this whole situation where he isn’t working with science but faith,” Laniohan said. “He is a lovable idiot that babbles so much. That has been a very different experience, because I don’t really do that. I saw what I need to say and that’s about it. Having to say 30 words where five will do has been odd.”
Perhaps the largest struggle came in the romantic scenes between Barnes and Laniohan, who plays Robert’s biggest fan and former student Hal. While Barnes and Laniohan consider themselves good friends, they are not romantically involved off stage.
“I actually have a fiance, who has been absolutely fantastic and supportive throughout the whole thing, but Andrew and I both struggled with the stage intimacy,” Barnes said.
UCC theater director Chryss Allaback brought in an intimacy coach to help.
“This is a really important thing that is happening in theatre right now,” Allaback said. “It’s to make sure people are comfortable, that no one feels violated and that everything is consensual.”
“It definitely made it a lot easier to step into that part of this role,” Laniohan said. “Instead of just being thrown on stage together. It was almost like a guided meditation to finding a connection specifically for these roles.”
“Proof” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday in Centerstage Theatre in the Whipple Fine Arts Center on the main UCC campus. Repeat performances can be seen 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and again at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 and 29. Tickets are $10, though admission is free for students with ID. Doors will open half an hour before the show begins.
“I think you want to come see this play because it touches on things that every single person has dealt with. Everyone is going to find some fear, some joy, something to relate to,” Barnes said.