ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

'Proof's' staging adds up

Showered with accolades when first produced, David Auburn's "Proof" won the 2001 Pulitzer for drama and the Tony Award for best play. It was adapted into a 2005 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, broke records on Broadway and has been widely produced worldwide ever since.

"Proof" has also engendered considerable debate about whether all the hype was warranted. In her modestly scaled and thoughtful staging at the Macha Theatre -- an extended run of a production that initially played the Odyssey Theatre -- director Elina de Santos offers the opportunity for quiet reevaluation. Although it contains soap-operatic elements, as well as contrived plot twists more appropriate to an action film than a psychological drama, Auburn's ultimately uplifting play revolves around a very human core.


FOR THE RECORD:
'Proof' actor: A theater review in the June 27 Calendar section of "Proof" at the Macha Theatre misspelled actor Micah Freedman's surname as Feedman. —


Adam Blumenthal's poignantly dilapidated set bespeaks the mental turmoil of its inhabitants. It's here that Robert (Greg Mullavey), a famous mathematician gone mad, lives with his youngest daughter and full-time caretaker, Catherine (Abigail Rose Solomon), also a mathematician. Despite his deceptively corporeal presence, Robert is actually dead, a "surprise" we learn early on.

Catherine's fears for her sanity are exacerbated by her domineering "normal" sister, Claire (Ariana Johns), who swoops in to control her troubled sister's life. A romance with Hal (Micah Feedman), the mathematician who has been devotedly parsing Robert's mad scribblings, offers Catherine new hope and direction. But Catherine has a shocker up her sleeve that ends the first act with an O. Henry bang.

Perhaps mindful of her material's tendency to overstatement, De Santos has reined in her performers to a fitting emotional spareness, a bracing naturalism embraced by her able cast. Most notable is Mullavey, who captures the tragic glint of self-awareness under Robert's manic optimism. Robert's sudden, crushing realization of his incapacity is the evening's most exquisitely realized moment.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Proof," Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 13. $25. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 2 hours.

Feeling old with 'My Old Friends'

If Geritol broke into song, it would be "My Old Friends," the gentle musical comedy now playing at the Victory Theatre Center. The cranky residents at the Golden Days Retirement Hotel talk about sex (ancient history), letters from the kids (occasional) and suppositories (frequent).

Not much excitement, until new resident Peter (Tom Ormeny) shows up and stirs the pot, not to mention the heart of Heloise (Betsy Randle). Soon the piano has been unlocked, and Cuban exile Arias (Ruben Rabasa) is leading mambos down the halls, courtesy of choreographer Cate Caplin. But does anyone -- even Heloise -- really want Golden Days to be anything more than a waiting room for the end?

"Friends," written in the 1970s by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs, is a little dusty -- it feels its age. The authors don't take many chances and most of the material stays predictable. But director Maria Gobetti coaxes charming musical turns from her cast, and the ever-reliable Ormeny offers an affecting portrait of a widower.

"Oh, My Rose," where Peter sings of loneliness to his late wife, is particularly affecting. But the inarguable standout is stealth diva Pat Hodges (alternating with DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor), who brings down the house with the rafter-shaking "A Little Starch Left." I'll have what she's having.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

"My Old Friends," The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions. Ends Aug. 10. $28-$34. (818) 841-5421. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Better for screen than the stage

There will certainly be a large audience for "The Last Seder" in its West Coast premiere production at Greenway Court Theatre. As far as the writing goes, Jennifer Maisel's episodic allegory about the final Passover observance by a clan at the crossroads of dealing with Alzheimer's approaches its tear-jerking aims with delicate precision and punch.

"Seder" also offers able acting, particularly Jenny O'Hara and Joseph Ruskin, who shine as Lily and Marvin Price, the take-charge matriarch and disintegrating patriarch of a fractious East Rockaway family. Middle child Michelle (Elisa Donovan) launches the plot by inviting Kent (Douglas Dickerman), a stranger whom she meets at Penn Station, to join her and her prototypical siblings before Marvin goes to a care facility and Lily sells the house.

Julia (Victoria Stern, alternating with Patty Cornell), like partner Jane (Heather Robinson) a therapist, is pregnant with the first grandchild. Lawyer Claire (Lauri Hendler) keeps putting off fiance Jon (William Duffy) while assessing the contents of the various crates. Angel (Annika Marks), the youngest Price, renews her dormant relationship with African American neighbor Luke (Chuma Gault). Meanwhile, Lily has news involving Harold (Nick Ulett), Marvin's longtime golf partner.

Building to a miraculous metaphysical climax, Maisel explores the Price dynamic in a series of vignettes that recall "The Family Stone" as retold by Chaim Potok. At least, that's the effect of director Joseph Megel's agitated staging around set designer Adam Flemming's imposing construct of room details and cardboard boxes.

Every scene occurs amid group activity intended to evoke conflicts and draw parallels. Regrettably, the packing-box Impressionism is rather more digressive than incisive, drawing attention to itself instead of illuminating the script, sometimes quite clumsily.

"The Last Seder" is not without value, but this distractingly misfired mounting suggests that its optimal des- tination is before the cam- eras.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Last Seder," Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 27. $24. (323) 655-7679. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

The audience gets to play along

The worst part of family events -- weddings, birthdays, funerals -- may be that they actually involve your family. Amy Lord, co-creator of the long-running interactive show "Grandma Sylvia's Funeral," has changed all that. Now every Sunday afternoon at the Hayworth, you're invited to "The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick," another clan gathering where the audience improvises alongside the cast of "relatives."

Of course the party goes off the rails early on: Being a nice Jewish boy, all Harry (Gregory Mikurak) wants to do is grow up to be a rapper, much to the horror of his parents, Cheryl (Lord) and Aaron (Barry Papick). But why shouldn't every 13-year-old have fly girls at his side while reading the Haftarah?

"Boychick" is all perfectly good-humored, and includes among other eccentrics an impossibly sincere pregnant lesbian rabbi (Janice Markham) and an aunt given to striptease (Cheryl David). As the cere- mony unfolds, (predictably) shocking revelations and inappropriate behavior ensues. Exhibitionists who wish to test-drive an alternative social identity can enjoy the simple moments: mingle with the family, dance the Macarena, and have a little nosh from the buffet table, courtesy of Casablanca Restaurant.

"Boychick" is scattershot goof; the show's fun entirely depends on your willingness to participate. Introverts will want to steer clear. But Lord -- incidentally the most convincing performer in her own play -- has created a tiny screwball universe for compulsive party crashers.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

"The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick," The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 31. $36. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours.

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