“Proof” brings mental health awareness to UCC Theatre
As the production “Proof” began at the UCC Whipple Hall theatre, the audience saw a backdrop arch of composition notebooks behind the front porch of a family home that had fallen apart. The notebooks represent a mathematician’s great work as well as his psychosis.
“Proof” is the story of Catherine (Jesika Barnes), struggling with the recent death of her mentally ill father, a well-known mathematical genius named Robert (Harry Gandy). While she is greiving the loss of her father, she is plagued by the possibility of having inherited his mental illness since she shares his mathematical genius.
In the beginning scene, Catherine and her father are sitting on a bench discussing her birthday. By the end of the scene, the audience realizes she is speaking with the recently deceased, signifying Catherine’s deteriorating mental health.
Robert’s student Hal (Andrew Laniohan), then comes to stage wanting to share his admiration of his former professor with Catherine, while she acts full of doubt with Hal’s intentions. Her distrust and outburst of anger also signifies her mental health crisis. While stating she doesn’t actually want the police to come, she calls the police on Hal for “stealing” her father’s notebook. Hal pleads that he was only giving the notebook to her as a gift, because her father had written about Catherine. The scene goes dark.
Catherine’s sister, Claire (Cassandra Horton), arrives in hope to rescue her sister from the family’s old deteriorating home and wants Catherine to start fresh in New York City, while also hoping her sister can get some help for a potential mental illness. Claire does not believe in her sister’s ability to take care of herself. Catherine argues that if she was well enough to take care of their father, she is well enough to maintain her the home and her own mental well-being.
Catherine then drastically changes her mind toward Hal, accepting him as a lover. She shows Hal her notebook of equations, resulting in a fight as both Hal and Claire incorrectly assume the notebook must have been Robert’s.
This was Barnes’s second production with the UCC Theatre; her first role was the 2019 radio re-production of “War of the Worlds.” She said she could relate to her character on multiple levels: “My grandma is currently on hospice. It was really quite cathartic to be a character dealing with grief in the same way. This character made it a lot easier to process things outside of rehearsal. I also have two sisters, so there are other aspects I relate to with this character. My dad and I are also really close like my character,”said Barnes. Barnes explained that both she and the audience could relate to family members with bipolar disease, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses. “I know what it’s like to have a family member who is not in touch with reality. A lot of audience members said they could relate to the character with their own experience of having family members with mental illness and depression,”said Barnes.
Andew Laniohan, who has costarred with Barnes in the previous productions, had great stage presence throughout, which Barnes found to be very helpful. “I really like the cast that we were working with. They were really easy to work with. My character went through so many highs and lows and everyone gave me what I needed to get to those plays. There’s one moment where Andrew yells at me. He was really good at helping me get to where I needed to be. Sometimes it’s really hard to get to emotions in the scene, but if you have actors on stage with you who can feed into that energy that helps make it much easier to get to those places.”
Christina Allaback, director of theatre, also played an influential role in helping Barnes, “I was so proud of what we did and how we came together. Chris was amazing, she worked with us in such great ways. For me, Catherine was a really angry character. Chris helped me get the variety of emotion I needed with my character but she let me figure out what that meant to me and my character,” Barnes said.
Allaback looks forward to future productions: “The show next term is ‘Tick, Tick, Boom,’ which is by the same guy who did Rent. It’s a small musical, three people, a little rock opera. Auditions will be held April 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Wayne Crooch Hall. ‘Tick, Tick, Boom’ will be showing May 29 and 30 as well as June 5 and 6.”