‘Proof’ at Pec Playhouse.

It opens tonight at Pec Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica and automatically begs the question, “Proof of what?”  The answer unfolds in two acts.  There are elements of surprise, humor and speculation that develop in each of the nine scenes that cover the present day and some flashbacks.

Playwright David Auburn wrote the two-act play, his best known which won a Tony Award as well as the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The play was adapted into a film in 2005 starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.  Part of the journey from stage play to film is that often there are more characters in the latter, though minor, to fill out the lens of visual images.  When presented in a stage setting, fewer characters must justify every entrance and exit.  Fewer characters, however, usually empower the story.

Artistic director at PPT Michael Dice notes that the Chicago setting and script of this play compares to the style of another Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet.  Dice says about the comparison that Auburn also uses much overlapping of dialogue and succinct use of words to create an everyday exchange of communication between the actors.

Conflict is at the core of any stage action; conflict between characters, conflict between a character and him/herself and conflict between ideas or isms.  Weighing heavily in “Proof,” are invisible – yet very visible — conflicts looming above.  One is about pondering the fine line between genius and madness.  Where is that line?  There is also an examination of nature vs. nurture in each scene.  Genetic tendency toward mental illness or environmental influence?

Brian Pauley as mathematics professor Robert is most convincing is this role of distinguished genius falling into the abyss of mental illness.  He draws upon a long career of rich stage experience that includes Mr. Kraler in “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Jury Foreman in “Twelve Angry Men.” Last summer’s Man #3 in “The Big Meal” at Timber Lake Playhouse was a most memorable appearance in a most memorable play.

Ellie Laesch as Catherine mirrors her father’s angst about her own mental illness as she dreads an uncertain future.  At first glance, she’s a delightful young adult.  But as the action progresses she effectively portrays much more genius about her character along with all the darkness that accompanies her conflicted moods.  It’s her first appearance at PPT after shows at Rock Valley College Studio Theatre in “Witness for the Prosecution” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”  She shines, especially in an intimate setting.

The realistic humor is the sibling rivalry between Catherine and her sister Claire.  Erin Hannigan steps into that role spouting all her polyester yuppie-like jargon, no intellectual match to any of the characters around her.  She exudes this charismatic energy from comedy sketch show “Rockford Legal Follies” and sings in “Irish Bar Band.”  Their exchange of sisterly dysfunction is a good example of Auburn using Mamet’s style of overlapping dialogue, a most relatable family dynamic.

And, of course, there’s always a romantic element in the form of character Hal, a student of mathematics.  Nelson Gutierrez takes the role with ease bringing along the ups and downs of initial miscommunications and much confusion about the moods of the opposite sex.  He is no novice about main roles after starring in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at RVC Starlight Theatre as well as  Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Set design also by Michael Dice and sound design by Glen Wiegert, notable because he also currently appears on stage in “Escanaba in da Moonlight” at Winneshiek Playhouse.

Find out what there is “Proof” of.  It runs through October 2.  (Adult language, not for children.)  Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m.  Next show, “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of The Christmas Carol (November 18 thru December 4).   For more information about auditions and other events, contact (815) 239-1210 or  Pec Playhouse Theatre is not far from any of us in Northern Illinois at 314 Main Street, Pecatonica, Illinois 61063.