Garfield Center’s “Proof” character asks if she inherited genius, mental illness—or both

The genius of Proof is in its fascinating search for proof—of whether the central character, Catherine, has inherited her father’s mathematical genius or his mental illness.  Or both.

A 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony Award “best play” by David Auburn, Proof opens at 8:00 pm this Friday, March 16, at The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre, and runs for two weekends, through March 25 (8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights and 3:00 pm on Sundays).  Catch it if you can.

Three of the four cast members are Kent County natives and the fourth is Allen LaMontagne, the Episcopal priest and rector of Old St. Paul’s in Sandy Bottom.  The actors say their characters play off of each other in the universal way that family members—both living and dead—work through their hopes and fears.  Proof is the full-length production debut for all four actors on our stage.

Abby Joiner Ritchie got her start acting under the guidance of Kent County High School teacher Sylvia Maloney in Maloney’s after-school theater program.  In Proof, Ritchie plays the part of Claire, one of the two daughters of a brilliant but deeply troubled mathematician who has just recently died.

“I’m a social worker, so I deal with mental illness every day,” says Ritchie, who works for Talbot County Social Services.  “This is a modern play that hits home.  It’s now.  I think it’s very reasonable for the main character (Claire’s sister, Catherine) to be questioning her father’s footsteps.

“Is she a genius?  Is she mentally ill?  Or is she both?  With our small cast,” Ritchie says, “nothing gets lost.  I think each of the four characters has a different answer to those questions.”

Anna Black, who plays Catherine, is a senior at Kent County High School, with plans to go to American University in the fall.  Black has been acting as part of the Garfield Center’s Teen Theatre Troupe and Church Hill Theatre’s Green Room Gang since Middle School.  She has performed in many high school and Church Hill Theatre productions and was last seen on stage in The Garfield Center’s One Act Plays.

LaMontagne plays the role of Robert, the mathematician father, and Bennett Price plays the role of Hal, a former student of Robert’s.  Price attended Radcliffe Creek School and is a graduate of The Gunston School.  He works full-time at JBK Hardware and in the fall began an internship with The Garfield Center, helping support events and assisting sound and light guru Butch Clark.

Director Mark Sullivan says he chose Proof carefully from a list of New York drama Circle Award winners.  One of the things he liked about the play was that it had a small cast, forcing close collaboration between the actors, Assistant Director Tess Hogans, Stage Manager Sam Howell and himself.

“Directing is always interesting,” Sullivan says.  “In the beginning, you make all these decisions about dramatic approach, sets, costumes, sound and light, and then you run with it and try to execute those decisions.  Through rehearsals, everyone works very hard at executing that vision, but things invariably morph because these other creative people have joined in to achieve this one goal.”

The result, Sullivan says, is inevitably a more effective and successful production.

“An actor will come in and point out something that absolutely needs to be a certain way—something you hadn’t thought about, hadn’t envisioned.  And instantly, you realize that that’s the way it has to be.”

Sullivan believes the audience is going to like the way author David Auburn constructed Proof’s timeline, using brief flashbacks to flesh out the story, and he predicts they will find the characters complex and compelling.  He thinks people will like LaMontagne’s portrayal of the recently deceased Robert as a loveable college professor, “the kind who makes a strong impression on you.”

Says Sullivan:  “Proof is an example of really efficient story-telling.  I’m enormously impressed with the depth of the characters.  Nothing is completely black and white; all of them have gradations of motivation.”

For LaMontagne, playing a part in a community theater production is a special treat for which he rarely is able to find the time.  He directed and acted in a two-performance run of Love Letters at The Mainstay a few years ago, and often attends to gatherings of the local Live Playwrights’ Society.  He says he loves acting but sometimes thinks the director has the best view.

“When you’re acting, you have to rely on other people to see it,” LaMontagne says.  “But when you’re the director, it unfolds before your eyes.”

That said, his joy in playing Robert in Proof is palpable.

“When I’m in a play, I’m more fully enjoying life; I’m more engaged, more enthusiastic about things that we tend to take for granted,” LaMontagne says.  “The interdependence of the cast and crew is like a jazz ensemble where you’re playing your part, but you’re also playing off the others.”

In his role as an actor, the rector became thoughtful for a moment.

“This is the faith part,” he ventures.  “I’m praying that Proof unfolds before the audience’s eyes (because) the characters and the story are worthy.  This is a very good play.”


PROOF by David Auburn

Directed by Mark Sullivan

Produced by The Garfield Center for The Arts at The Prince Theatre


DATES: March 16-18 & March 23-25

TIMES: Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm  & Sundays @ 3pm


TICKETS: $15 / $5 (Students with ID)* Recommended for ages 15 and older.