Backyard Renaissance: Proof
David Auburrn’s play has plenty of pedigree: Broadway hit, Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize, film adaptation. It leans hard into the notion of the fine line between genius and madness — so hard that the line cannot hold: we learn straightaway that Dad the brilliant mathematician set the world on fire before he was 25, and then suffered a serious breakdown of the machinery upstairs. Now he’s dead, and his daughter/caretaker Catherine — who has just turned 25 herself — is finally free of him. But of course, not really, no. He personally haunts her in the very first scene, urging her not to waste her own talent for math while also acknowledging that his appearance on her porch “might not be a good sign.” After that, it’s his academic legacy that does the haunting, in the form of an eager disciple (and not-so-secret admirer), followed by a legacy of an altogether more personal sort: is she a crazy genius, too? How crazy? How genius? (Just guess what her big sister thinks.) It’s a solid play, though perhaps a little too cheerful and chipper for its own good. What makes this production sing has more to do with the casting and performances, starting with lead Liliana Talwatte, who has one of those Stage Faces (huge expressive eyes, a mouth that threatens to split her face sideways when she grins and opens into a dark cavern when she breaks) and one of those Stage Voices to go with it, all honey rich and round and responsive to the needs of the moment. It’s tempting to call her the stable center around which sister and suitor revolve while Dad streaks across the sky, but then, her stability is the big question here. Speaking of Dad: Francis Gercke walks a fine line of his own in his portrayal of crazy intensity/intense craziness, often reeling back from the edge of over the top, but just as often near enough to produce the requisite discomfort. Mention ought to be made of Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller’s work as well; Backyard Renaissance advertises itself as having an “art to the gut” sensibility; the way the lights come on and go out here isn’t subtle, but it’s effective.
Ongoing until Thursday, December 7, 2023