KPBS AIRDATE: October 10, 2003
It’s a rare treat to see two Pulitzer Prize-winning plays in one week. You can catch the 2001 winner, “Proof,” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, then hop up to Orange County for this year’s Pulitzer, “Anna in the Tropics,” at South Coast Rep. Both are provocative and stimulating. David Auburn’s “Proof,” a mystery about math and genetics, is also a family drama and a love story. “Anna in the Tropics,” by Nilo Cruz, concerns cigars, literature, automation and infidelity. And most assuredly, love. The response to one may be intellectual; to the other, visceral.
The title of “Proof” refers to how crucial truth and certainty are in math and how rarely they appear or apply in life. 25 year-old Catherine fears that she’s inherited her father’s madness as well as his mathematical genius. She also worries that her father’s protégé, a math-whiz wannabe, is after her for the wrong reasons. Directors Sam Woodhouse and Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg have shifted the balance of the play so the love story and the theme of brilliance vs. mediocrity assume a higher profile than the family dynamic. Perhaps the balance will shift again as the cast settles in. TV actress Danica McKellar, a bona fide math mastermind with a proof that bears her name, may have been born to the role but has yet to firmly inhabit it. Likewise Sam Woodhouse as her father. Neither is the riveting force they need to be. The slack is taken up by Francis Gercke, whose portrayal of the nerdy suitor is ferocious and hilarious, a tad too much so at times. Cheryl Kenan Fording is excellent as Catherine’s Yuppie sister, awash in envy and ordinariness. The beautiful mess of a Chicago back porch was masterfully designed by Jerry Sonnenberg. Though less enigmatic than it could be, this satisfying production of an intriguing play will leave you thinking and talking long after it ends.
“Anna in the Tropics” may leave you touched, titillated — overcome by the heat. In steamy, 1929 Tampa Florida, a lector arrives at a cigar factory to read to the rollers, maintaining a tradition begun in Cuba and continuing there today. What a magnificent idea: reading from the classics to workers stuck in routinized jobs. Mechanization of the factory will soon edge out the lector. But for now, he’s here, he’s reading “Anna Karenina,” and no character’s life will ever be the same. The pungent words provoke amor and even murder. Life imitates art; the novel plays out in the factory, and the power of language overwhelms us, too. The play is lyrical and seductive. Director Juliette Carillo encourages her sultry, passionate ensemble to ravish us as well as each other… and we willingly succumb.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.