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Proof lacks key ingredients

David Auburn's mathematical whodunit, 'Proof,' comes to Artists Repertory Theatre after its 2001 Tony and Pulitzer wins.

But in Michael Griggs' production, the audience is left to do much of the figuring.

The play's premise is simple: Chicago math professorÊRobert (Steve Smith) has died, leaving behind dozens of notebooks of complex theory. Trouble is, they date from his later years when he was bipolar and unable to work.

The story pivots on his addled daughter, Catherine (Kristen Martha Brown), who cared for him for five years, abandoning her own math studies and becoming a recluse.

Robert's former student Hal (Ryan Lee) is sorting through Robert's notebooks when he is guided to another by Catherine, which contains a completely new mathematical theory. But who wrote it? Catherine claims she did, but Hal doesn't believe her, and this doubt is a particularly bitter betrayal to Catherine because they have become romantically involved.

The actors articulate their parts well, but important subtext is lacking. There's a tricky bridge between normalcy and madness: If Robert and Catherine behave too strangely at the start, the story is given away too early. And as Robert says, 'Crazy people don't sit around wondering if they are or not.'

Brown inhabits her role like a depressed teenager unable to get up in the morning. She avoids eye contact by staring into space, registering as a character more uncomfortable than unhinged. Smith charmingly delivers Auburn's witty lines as throwaways Ñ but his obvious sanity works against him. Neither actor effectively creates unease. Madness must come from within Ñ a kettle that's about to boil Ñ and that element is in short supply.

Lee has a charming Dave Matthews-Tom Hanks air about him and paces every scene he's in.

Ultimately, the play lacks anger. Not the shouting and flailing variety, but simmering anger Ñ the frustration of a genius who knows that the world is a half-step behind and, for all his or her talent, is unable to explain why.