Theater: Will the real genius please stand up? 

AASU’s 2008 summer season closes with the Pulitzer-prize winning play Proof

He may head Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Theatre Department, but Dr. Peter Mellon doesn’t get many chances to act.

Mellon is happy he has a major part in Proof, a suspenseful drama that opens July 24 at AASU. “I’m having a delightful time with it,” he says. “This is actually quite a treat.

“I play Robert, the father of two daughters, Catherine and Claire,” Mellon says. “Apparently, my wife passed on a while ago. I’m apparently a mathematical genius or was at some point in my life.”

Mellon’s character has gone mad and died, but is seen in flashbacks throughout the play. He was cast as Robert by the play’s director, Pam Sears.

“Pam told me I had to audition,” Mellon says. “I was directing T-bone and Weasel. She asked me if I would go up and fill in for the readings. She wound up casting me.

“Pam’s really very good because she knows what she wants and guides you rather gently to it,” Mellon says. “So far, she hasn’t thrown anything at us -- at least physical things. She has a nice way of getting you to do it.”

The plot concerns a brilliant mathematical proof supposedly written by Robert before his death. However, his daughter Catherine insists she actually wrote the proof -- but no one believes her.

The play was written by David Auburn. It won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

“It’s a terrific show,” Mellon says. “Surprisingly, there’s a great deal of humor. It’s also rather poignant. Anybody who’s had any sort of family relationship is going to be able to relate to at least one character. One of the more interesting situations is the tension between the two sisters.”

The play will be presented in the Masquers Chinese Theater (MCT), which has served as the temporary home for the AASU theater program. Mellon says renovations are nearly complete at Jenkins Theatre, so this may very well be the last performance put on at the MCT.

The other three cast members are all AASU theater majors. “Catherine is 25 at the start of the play,” Sears says. “She’s being visited by her deceased father. She confides in him and summons him because she doesn’t have a close relationship with anyone else.

“She can talk with him about things she can’t discuss with anyone else,” Sears says. “Yet she’s fearful she might inherit the trait of insanity that he had. She was studying in college and quit school to stay and take care of him once he started deteriorating.

“Her sister Claire comes in for the funeral and announces she’s going to sell the family home,” Sears says. “She tries to persuade Cathy to move to New York with her, so there is conflict between the two.”

Into this mix comes Hal, a grad student and protege of Robert’s, who wants to go through Robert’s notebooks. “A relationship develops between Catherine and Hal,” Sears says.

“She doesn’t have any friends and the people closest to her assert they don’t believe her,” Sears says. “She’s left feeling very isolated. It’s got some comedic moments for sure, but it’s very suspenseful.”

The play was made into a 2005 film that starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis and Anthony Hopkins. “The play is better than the movie,” Sears says. “When a play is made into a film, they usually broaden the location. Sometimes it enriches the story, but in this case, the microscopic focus of everything happening on the porch of a house in Chicago intensifies the effect.”

Lindsey Woo plays Catherine, and somewhat identifies with her. “I kind of struggle with depression myself,” she says. “My husband is in Iraq, and I do understand the notion of kind of going crazy.”

The play’s theme makes it difficult to play the part, Woo says. “I’m a theater/arts person, not a math/science person,” she says. “Some of the things are way above what I would ever understand about math.”

Woo moved to Savannah from Los Angeles to be closer to her husband, Jacob. “He’s got six months left in Iraq,” she says.

In the meantime, Woo is working towards a degree in theater and plans to pursue acting full-time. “I think Proof is a very intellectual drama, a very psychological experience,” she says. “It gets the brain going and makes you think.”

John Martin, who plays Hal, originally is from Pennsylvania and is a junior at AASU. “I’ve gotten a lot of good roles here,” Martin says. “Everyone’s nice and they’re all hard workers. This is the first time I’ve ever played the love interest, so that’s been a little different.

“It’s a great night of theater,” he says. “There’s a lot of suspense, with a lot of twists and turns in the plot. It’s been a lot of fun working on it. “

Carmel Suttrell plays Claire. “She’s very independent,” Suttrell says. “She’s very mothering to her sister.

“I come from a big family with four siblings,” she says. “I have a younger sister and an older sister, and Claire is interesting to me because I have the experience of being an older sister to someone else, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of that.”

Yet Claire isn’t anything like Suttrell. “It’s been very challenging for me,” Suttrell says. “I don’t think I’ve ever played a character so unlike me. I’m more laid back. I’m a leader, but don’t care to have control. Claire has to have it.”

Someday, Suttrell hopes to have her own theater. “My boyfriend is in Portland. Ore. at a seminary,” she says. “We hope to open our own community theater one day and do ministry that way.

“I was born and raised here,” Suttrell says. “I started doing theater when I was in elementary school. There was a storytelling troupe, and I got involved in that and then started doing solo things.

“We would do competitions, and we went on to the national competition. That’s what got the theater bug in me. All through middle school and high school, I did all the plays I could, the majority at the Savannah Christian Church.”

Proof will keep audiences guessing. “It’s the sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of show,” Suttrell says. “It has comedic moments, but it’s very intense.”

AASU’s Department of Art, Music & Theatre: Proof

The final production of the 2008 Summer Theater Season will be David Auburn's suspenseful drama, which was presented both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 2001. When: July 24, 25, 26 and 31, and August 1, 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. A matinee will be presented July 27 at 3 p.m. Where: The Masquers Chinese Theater (MCT), located in Armstrong Center, 13040 Abercorn St. Cost: $10 general admission. Limited Seating. Info: 344-2556 or www.finearts.armstrong.edu.

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