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Thursday, April 19, 2012

New company has almost all the "Proof" we need: Exit Through Eden at Raleigh Ensemble Players

Posted by on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 2:27 PM

3.5 stars
(out of five)
Exit Through Eden
Raleigh Ensemble Players
Through Apr. 22

Catherine, the bright, bewildered daughter of a deceased mathematical genius, isn’t the only one with something to prove in this current production of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. A new director at the helm of a new theater group is having to present a few bona fides as well.

This production marks the maiden voyage for director Jason Sharp’s company, Exit Through Eden. Sharp has achieved notice in a series of supporting roles in shows including Violet at Hot Summer Nights and Raleigh Ensemble Players’ Distracted, and this recombinant production largely relies on colleagues he’s worked with on stage in recent years.

For the most part, that’s a pretty good move. Betsy Henderson, a distinguished mid-career Raleigh actor, convinces here as the edgy, aching and alienated Catherine. An equally accomplished Ryan Brock ingratiates here as Hal, an unapologetic math geek and possible romantic interest. And it should shock no one that Page Purgar’s supporting work is solid as Catherine’s disbelieving older sister, Claire.

But at first Eric Hale appears to be acting more for the camera than the stage, in what initially translated into an almost deadpan, is-he-even-acting take on Robert, Catherine’s prickly father. Things improved considerably during both characters’ rewarding, dramatic argument at the start of the second act, but Hale’s later negotiation of Robert’s reversals leaves me still with questions about his range.

In such nacent independent companies, a skeleton crew is par for the course. In this show, director Sharp’s set design conveys the grungy backyard of an aging Chicago house. His lighting design, however, left us squinting at a noticeably dimmer backdoor area where several key scenes take place.

But if Sharp largely relied on the comforts of the known in casting this production, I should caution him against the same when it comes to script selection. This production marks the fifth time PROOF has been produced in the region in the past decade. For that reason alone I hesitated before committing to see the show—and I imagine some portion of this company’s potential audience did so as well.

The same point should be considered—carefully—by all artistic directors in the region now planning their fall season. Twelfth Night’s been done. Ditto for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And, in this credible opening bid by Exit Through Eden, so has Proof.

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