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‘In the shadow of mental illness’: ShenanArts to present Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Proof’

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In June, ShenanArts will present “Proof,” the story of a troubled young woman caring for her sick father and also worrying about her own mental health.

The Pulitzer Prize winning play is by American playwright David Auburn and was first on Broadway in 2000.

Catherine’s father, Robert, is a genius mathematician but his mind slips away. She has the same talent for academia and fears that she may also have inherited his mental illness. Catherine’s older sister, Claire, returns home to help put everything in order. Hal, one of Robert’s former students, wants to search through Robert’s old math notebooks because he believes they might contain something extraordinary. What Hal eventually discovers brings to light a buried family secret.

“Proof” is a story about family, love, legacy and truth.

ShenanArts’ mission is “to build bridges in our community through the shared experience of live theatre” and the production team believes that “Proof” is fulfilling that mission with a relatable play which handles the topic of mental illness tastefully.

Larry Friedland, who works with the Valley Community Services Board and plays Robert in the production, feels that “Proof” is an important play for the community.

“It touches on very real aspects of mental illness: the family dynamics, the very real concerns that come from the potential of hereditary inheritance, and the real family interactions that take place. There is open communication, frank discussion, and a real feeling that the characters love each other even though they live in the shadow of mental illness,” Friedland said.

As a mental health professional, Friedland provided insight to the production team during the rehearsal process.

Caring for a sick family member is a major theme in the play and something that the production team feels that everyone can relate to. The story really hits home for director Clarence Joseph Finn.

“When I was about 15 years old, I witnessed my grandfather struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and tried to be there for him as best I could. Having a family member go through this is a reality that many people have to face and why I think this play is powerful. You try to hold on to hope and positivity as much as you can in those moments. You need to be strong for them even though it tears you up inside. I think plays that cover this kind of material are important to share with the community because it’s so real to a lot of people,” Finn said.

Finn calls the production “a very human play. I think audience members can connect to this play because the characters go through things that we all do. At the end of the day, this is a play about a father leaving behind a legacy for his daughter and wanting her to have a bright future. I’m excited that we will be presenting this play during Father’s Day weekend. I think it’s a great opportunity for fathers in the community to take their adult children out to see the play. It’s a touching story that can make you think, cry and laugh.”

The cast includes Cori McDaniel as Catherine, Larry Friedland as Robert, Haley Roberts as Claire and Jesi Dunnivan as Hal.

“Proof” will run at ShenanArts Thursday, June 13 and Friday, June 14 at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 15 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 16 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $19 per adult, $17 per student and senior. Tickets are available online and at the theatre box office.

“Proof” contains strong language and adult themes.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.