Great plays bring out great performances, even in those scripts rendered over-familiar by myriad local productions. A case in point is David Auburn's "Proof," now on stage at the Westminster Community Theater.
Ever since South Coast Repertory first introduced the Pulitzer Prize winner to local audiences in 2003, productions of "Proof" have cropped up in five area theaters, including the current WCT version. And all have been impressive.
At Westminster, director Lenore Stjerne has assembled a particularly strong four-character cast to interpret this drama about a young woman who apparently has inherited her father's mathematics genius gene — but also may have been burdened with his tendency toward insanity.
Tara Golson, in the central role of the troubled daughter Catherine, delivers a riveting performance, whether interacting with the spirit of her father, edging into a romance with one of his former students or clashing head-on with her well-meaning older sister who's trying to control her life.
As the inquisitive ex-student, the self-professed "math geek" Hal, Anthony Galleran, renders an earnest account, awkwardly initiating the romance and challenging Catherine on points of math, which will be foreign to most playgoers but become crucial in the confrontation.
Veteran actor John Parker digs into the father's role on three levels — first as the sage spirit of his recently departed character, next in flashback as a professorial math guru and, most riveting, a troubled soul whose mind is fast eroding. The latter scene is superbly presented.
Tiffany Berg completes the cast as the older sister, Claire, who genuinely cares for Catherine's welfare yet comes across as a meddling antagonist. Berg contributes a strong and credible performance in this difficult assignment as the only character not consumed by the complexities of mathematics.
Stjerne also designed the attractive setting and devised the fine sound design, which sets the play's mood. Her pacing of the dramatic sequences — especially the last scene between father and daughter — is excellent.
"Proof" is one of the most deeply involving dramas available in modern theater catalogues, and its record of dynamic productions is strongly continued at WCT.
Stellar voices propel 'Memphis'
How many world-class voices can you fit into one musical? In the case of "Memphis" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, quite a few, including a couple of surprises.
After cheering Felicia Boswell's scorching vocal tones in her role as an African American singer discovered by a hyperactive white deejay cracking the color line in more ways than one and marveling at the powerful tones of her protective brother (Horace V. Rogers), we get a glorious bonus late in the first act from Rhett George, whose character hasn't uttered a word since, at age 5, he watched the lynching of his father.
And as if that weren't enough, in the second act the deejay's mother (Julie Johnson), heretofore portrayed as drab and quarrelsome, glams up and rattles the rafters with her powerful tones. For fans of vocal musical prowess, the show is heaven-sent.
"Memphis," the 2010 Tony award winner for best musical, turns back the clock to the early 1950s, when rock 'n' roll was in its infancy. Creators Joe DePietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics) have fashioned a compelling tribute to the music of the period in a dynamic production directed with a flourish by Christopher Ashley.
The central figure of the ambitious deejay who falls for the alluring black songstress is portrayed with all stops out by Bryan Fenkart, who generates enough energy to light up the center for a week. Fenkart struggles valiantly to play what his employer (a gruffly engaging William Parry) snidely refers to as "race music," but concedes when its popularity enriches his enterprise.
Fenkart and Boswell conduct a spirited Romeo and Juliet romance while vocalizing beautifully on such numbers as "The Music of My Soul" and fending off fervent opposition from her brother (Rogers) and his mother (Johnson). Meanwhile, the face of American popular music is changing dramatically.
Credibility wanes a bit when the obligatory conflict arises in the second act, and the finale raises more than a few questions, but overall, "Memphis" is a stunning achievement, crowned by some outstanding choreography by Sergio Trujillo under the musical supervision of Christopher Jahnke.
"Memphis" is a rich, dynamic tribute to the early days of rock music, presented with superior dramatic tension and comedic flair. It's a crowd pleaser steeped in heart as well as soul.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Huntington Beach Independent, Daily Pilot and Coastline Pilot.