Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By David Auburn
Directed by Randy Warren
In 2001, this play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and also the Tony Award for Best Play. It’s an interesting play, but it does have some serious drawbacks. It fails to resolve the central issue – and indeed the main character herself seems uninterested in resolving it – so why should the audience care? Also two of the characters are more or less cardboard figures, and are not given emotionally revealing lines.
Given these dramatic problems, Randy Warren and his cast have created a professional and well-paced performance. A retired mathematician Robert is dying and has delusional episodes, so his daughter Catherine gives up her college courses to look after him. In the past he has done amazing original work, and we soon understand that she too has considerable mathematical talent, but may also share his mental tendencies.
Newcomer Devin Van Domelin is convincing as fragile and brilliant Catherine, while Tony Wilshere is excellent in a cameo performance as aging professor “Robert.” Actually he’s already dead in a moving opening scene, where Catherine has a conversation with his ghost. Later in the play there’s a flashback scene, which shows the loving relationship between father and daughter. Although I felt that the lighting was too dark in the opening scene and a spot on Catherine would have helped, these were the two best scenes of the play.
Catherine’s sister “Claire” shows up for the funeral, and proceeds to take charge. She plans to sell the house, and take Catherine to New York where she can receive proper medical treatment. Also there’s a PhD student “Hal” who has been going through Robert’s papers in the hope of finding nuggets of mathematical genius. These two characters, sensible Claire and nerdy Hal, serve to bring out some of Catherine’s problems. She is very smart mathematically, but she’s also lazy and unable to cope with reality.
Hal is a sort of love interest, and she gives him the key to a locked drawer which contains an extraordinary and very difficult proof. Something in number theory which no one has ever been able to prove or disprove – I am reminded of Fermat’s Last Theorem. She claims that the proof is hers, though the handwriting looks like her father’s. We’d like to know, but the author seems to lose interest. Collette Clavadetscher is very good as the well-meaning sister, though the author doesn’t give her anything except bossy lines. At the end of the play she stomps out, presumably to catch a plane to New York. Wayne Willis Waterman plays “Hal,” and does his best with the unsympathetic role. I hope we will see him again at LLT in a more demanding part.
Randy Warren took on the direction of this play, which was already selected for this season. He has responded to the challenge, and also has brought two new actors to the LLT stage. Congratulations to all the cast and crew who performed well and gave us a thought-provoking play. Jean Marie Harmon was Stage Manager, her first time in this demanding job. Next up is Noises Off, a crazy farce by Michael Frayn which opens on November 30.
Column: Front Row Center
Michael Warren grew up in London, England and lived on Baker Street very close to where Sherlock Holmes hung out his shingle. He graduated with an Honors degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, which no doubt helps him to balance his check book. While a student, he edited a humorous magazine entitled “ffobia” which was widely circulated amongst his friends.