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A&E: Do the math: This 'Proof' works

March 3, 2008

For the second time in as many months, a one-word, Pulitzer-Prize-winning play is being presented to Indy audiences.

For the second time in as many months, audiences are eating it up.

Both the Indiana Repertory Theatre's "Doubt" and Theatre on the Square's "Proof" (running through March 15) are good examples of what has become a necessity in contemporary theater-the smart-but-not-intimidating, relatively easy-to-produce, small-cast, audiencefriendly, short-enough-not-to-challengethe-bladder, more-laughs-than-you'dexpect-given-the-subject-matter drama.

"Proof"-which theater junkies may remember from the Phoenix's outstanding production a few seasons back and film junkies may know from the underperforming Gwyneth Paltrow/Anthony Hopkins movie version-concerns Catherine, a young woman who has spent the better part of her adult life taking care of her mathematical genius father, who spent years battling dementia. I won't give away much more, except to say that the title refers to both a landmark mathematical proof (which may or may not have been written by the father during a lucid phase) and to a human proof: When it comes to human relationships and personal trust, how much evidence do we need? How do people accustomed to if-then forumals deal with the uncertainty of human interaction?

TOTS' production, squeezed a little uncomfortably into its smaller second space, delivers the play without accentuating its flaws (the second act wants for more incident and development-it feels about 10 minutes short). As Catherine, Aarya Sara Locker doesn't transcend (it is difficult to compete with the memory of Alissa Stamatis' luminous Phoenix performance in the role), but nonetheless makes us both care about her and understand why her own sanity may be in question. As a student torn between the professor's papers and the professor's daughter, Matthew Roland gives a remarkably wellrounded, emotionally resonant performance that should open more conventional doors for the actor best known locally for such oddities as the disturbed brother in "The Pillowman" and Jesus/Stephen Hawking in "End Days."

To the credit of director Julianne Inskeep, all four performances are well modulated to the small space (with the exception of just a few slightly too-big moments).

In all, this is a generous show, warm despite the pain at its core.

But don't take that on faith. For proof, just go.

There is no denying the artistry of Pilobolus, the make-its-own-rules dance company now in its 38th year.

But audiences who attended the packed performance on Feb. 23 have every right to ask what happened to the joy.

Don't get me wrong: On this tour, Pilobolus offered an evocative, beautiful "Aquatica," taking us out in the waves and under the sea, dodging clichés while creating new ways for bodies to combine.

It brought back 1983's intensely physical one-man "Pseudopodia" and gave us a new pas de deux, "Persistence of Memory," in which one partner was more often upside down than right side up. It even evocatively added animation to its impenetrable Act 1 closer, "Rushes" and capped that piece with a stunning, beautiful final few moments (involving a series of chairs and a single light bulb).

But it wasn't until the water hit the stage and the dancers started gleefully splashing for a Slip 'n Slide-ish curtain call that the tone lightened and the spirits of the dancers truly emerged. A bit of that joy earlier would have made the admirable, awe-inspiring evening a more engaging one.

Every season, it seems, a production comes along at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre that is perfectly serviceable and perfectly forgettable. This year's "West Side Story" is it.

Peopled with effective singers/dancers too old for their roles and sporting a design that's effective without being inspired, this "West Side Story" is a justentertaining-enough placeholder.
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