'Proof,' at Theatre Three

Jame Schultz, Maryellen Molfetta and Regina Schneider star

Jame Schultz, Maryellen Molfetta and Regina Schneider star in "Proof" at Theatre Three, Port Jefferson, through Jan. 28, 2012. (Credit: Steve Ayle Photo/)

proof 1: evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true . . .

8: Math, logic: a sequence of steps, statements or demonstrations that leads to a valid conclusion

David Auburn's 2001 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, "Proof," examines both definitions of the title word and weaves them into an unresolvable, unprovable quandary. Can you prove an emotional truth, or does the requirement of proof nullify trust?

As directed by Brian MacDevitt at Theatre Three, those questions evoke family legend. The particulars may not apply to you and yours, but the truth about loved ones is exposed as both uplifting and debilitating.

For years, Catherine resolved her emotional quandary by taking care of her math-genius father, Robert, in his dilapidated Chicago home, while her sister, Claire, immersed herself in family and career in New York.

Except for a period of relative lucidity, Robert's once-

incisive mind was crippled by dementia and delusion, until his death by aneurysm.

Claire, the practical one, returns to take care of Robert's affairs, including selling the home -- of which we see only the back porch on Randall Parsons' meticulously disheveled, leaf-strewn set, moodily illuminated by Robert Henderson Jr. (Kristy Leigh Hall's casual-to-dressy costumes point us to a contemporary time.) Hal, a protege of Robert's, comes by to examine the great man's papers, though Catherine warns him that they're gibberish. Hal's primary motive, however, is to woo Catherine. Robert, meanwhile, resumes life in flashback. Or is it Catherine's vivid imagination?

Five-time Tony-winning designer MacDevitt returns home -- he's a Ward Melville alum -- to masterfully direct a masterpiece. Maryellen Molfetta as Catherine fitfully teeters along the fine line between emotion and madness, fretting openly that she may have inherited her father's curse as well as his gift. As played by James Schultz, Hal is convincingly off-balance -- a suitor rummaging through the house where she lives. Regina Schneider's Claire is both imperious and intimidated, envious of her sister, yet grateful that mad genius passed her by.

As Robert, Jack Green shows the strain of a man trying to hold it together, relieved as he belatedly remembers Catherine's birthday, but feverish while he works toward an imaginary math solution.

Four years after his mentor's death, Hal discovers a breakthrough math proof in Robert's files, though he'd not done important work in decades. Catherine insists it's hers, not her father's.

Hal asks, where's the proof?

Catherine asks, where's the trust?

Will we ever know the answer to either?

WHAT "Proof," by David Auburn

WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 3 p.m., through Jan. 28 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

INFO $15-$28; theatre three.com, 631-928-9100

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