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Gerald Carpenter: The Theater Group at SBCC to Perform Pulitzer Prize Winner ‘Proof’

Katherine Bottoms and Paul Canter in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of ‘Proof’ by David Auburn.
Katherine Bottoms and Paul Canter in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of ‘Proof’ by David Auburn. (Ben Crop / The Theatre Group photo)

April 13-30, The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College is presenting a new production of David Auburn’s Proof directed by R. Michael Gros and starring Katherine Bottoms, Paul Canter, Alex Coleman and Amanda Gustafsson.

This is the final production of The Theater Group’s 70th anniversary season.

Here is The Theater Group’s synopsis of the play’s action: “On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Catherine, a troubled young woman, has spent years caring for her brilliant but unstable father, a famous mathematician.

“Now, following his death, she must deal with her own volatile emotions; the arrival of her estranged sister, Claire; and the attentions of Hal, a former student of her father’s who hopes to find valuable work in the 103 notebooks that her father left behind.

“Over the long weekend that follows, a burgeoning romance and the discovery of a mysterious notebook draw Catherine into the most difficult problem of all: How much of her father's madness — or genius — will she inherit?”

Of all the plays which have garned rave reviews on Broadway over the last twenty years, Proof seems to me the most likely to maintain a regular presence on the boards 20 years from now.

Others have opened with more fanfare and created a bigger sensation. Others have seemed more relevant, speaking more directly to this or that contemporary social crisis.

Only Proof, so far as I know, has a story that would have made as much sense to an audience in 1950 as it will to an audience in 2050 (unless, of course, what we would recognize as “academia” no longer exists by then). The play is also exciting, romantic, suspenseful and often very funny.

When I was growing up, thanks to the school district I happened to live in, most of my closest friends were the children of college professors. Few of them, if any, followed their parents into the same discipline, even if they pursued academic careers.

In my rather prolonged college years, I studied under several professors, in both physical and social sciences, who were themselves the children of famous professors in the same field. In every case, these offspring had failed to surpass their parents in achievement or reputation.

It was rather as if they had inherited their positions, like 17th-century French judgeships, on the strength of their surnames, regardless of their intellectual merit. They spent their days trying not to disgrace the family brand.

Proof, while it obviously illuminates both of those conditions, is by no means a generic after-school issue drama.

Catherine and her sister, Claire, their father and his student, Hal, are unique, fully formed characters who have spent their entire lives getting to where they are now. Their actions and reactions make sense only in the context of their individual lives.

The story’s specificity is what makes it universal.

Nor, I hasten to add, are Auburn’s amazing insights applicable only to denizens of the academic world. A famous parent in any field — literature, business, politics, music, acting and so on — is always a boost and a burden.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, who worshipped his brilliant father, Randolph, was haunted all his life by the specter of his father’s allegedly syphilis-driven mental deterioration.

Arlo Guthrie is still watching over his shoulder for signs of his father’s Huntington’s chorea. Inheritance is a two-edged sword.

Proof shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in the Jurkowitz Theatre, on SBCC’s West Campus (900 block of Cliff Drive).

Performances are April 13-30, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., Saturday matinees April 23 & 30 at 2 p.m.. The Sunday, April 17, 2 p.m. performance will be live-captioned for the hearing impaired.

Tickets for the April 13 & 14 previews are $18 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. Admission for Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday matinees is $24, $19 and $14 respectively.For Friday and Saturday evenings, tickets are $26, $21 and $17.

Tickets can be purchased at the Garvin Theatre Box Office, by phone at 805.965.5935 or online at www.theatregroupsbcc.com.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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