Theatre production questions line between madness, genius

Release Date: February 18, 2008

PLAINVIEW – There’s a fine line between genius and madness, and the next play to take the stage at Wayland Baptist University will explore that line.

Proof, written by David Auburn, is a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning show that deals with a woman and her father, both mathematicians, and their struggles.

“Robert, the father, works as a math professor at Chicago University and comes down with a mental instability. His daughter, Catherine, is also a mathematician and she is discovering that she may also have some sort of instability,” explained Jeff Kensmoe, director of vocal studies and opera/musical theatre at Wayland who is serving as director of the production in place of Dr. Marti Runnels, theatre director and the co-chair of the Division of Fine Arts.

After Robert’s death, Kensmoe continued, Catherine and one of her father’s former students, Hal, must read through the more than 100 notebooks to discover what notes he left behind. The mystery of the show centers around one in particular.

“A notebook is found with a brilliant proof in it that would match if not go over anything else the father could have done. So the question throughout the piece is who wrote it? Did the father or did the daughter?” Kensmoe said.

Besides the mental issues and the question of genius, the play also deals with the broader aspect of humanity, like an adult child caring for an aging parent. An estranged sister, Claire, also enters the picture, creating more conflict as is typical.

“The scenes are rearranged in time, which is a mathematical anomaly in itself, that time doesn’t really exist,” Kensmoe added. “It’s a beautifully written piece and the cast is doing a great job.”

The play consists of only four roles, which Kensmoe said is beneficial because directors and actors can really hone the characters and give each one more focus. The lead role of Robert is played by Grant Jasper, a senior theatre major from Argyle; Mary Feril, a senior theatre major from Grand Prairie, takes the female lead as Catherine. Alicia Alford, a senior music major from Forney, plays Robert’s other daughter, Claire, and junior theatre major Thomas Hoffman plays Hal.

Jasper, Feril and Hoffman are veterans of the WBU stage, having held lead roles in many productions over the past few years. Alford, a music major, had a major role in last year’s musical The Spitfire Grill and has been involved in the opera scenes under Kensmoe.

Though the directing duties represent a departure for Kensmoe, who has co-directed a musical with Runnels and directs the annual opera scenes in the music department, he said the opportunity is valuable.

“Dr. Runnels is such a busy person, juggling the chair duties and directing the other shows, so they were looking for someone else to take this show and my name came up,” Kensmoe said. “I know of few situations where the musical person would be asked to direct a ‘straight’ show, so when he asked, I jumped at it. It’s a great opportunity for me.

“Straight theatre is my love, though I did more musical theatre because I was better at it. So for me, it’s a wonderful challenge and a chance for some professional development.”

Proof will be performed over two weekends, beginning with Wayland’s homecoming Feb. 21, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., and the following weekend on Feb. 29 and March 1, in the Harral Studio Theatre. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for alumni and students.

To make reservations, contact the theatre box office at (806) 291-1089.