"The danger is perhaps that we replace the sort of double-edged work that we do with a kind of earnestness," director Dan Sullivan says, "[just] because at this point people are looking for answers. I think it's a big mistake to start censoring ourselves."
He's talking about how artistic endeavors have been affected by the horrors of recent world events, and the potential aesthetic disaster of avoiding meaningful work in the name of placating, while underestimating, the masses.
David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize- winning drama that won Sullivan and the playwright Tonys in its Broadway incarnation, Proof is a piece about questions—the amount of strength we must ask of ourselves and how much trust we can demand from others. Sullivan describes the show, which he has staged for an opening next week at Seattle Repertory Theatre (his old haunt as its former artistic director), as a comment on "the need for loyalty in the world." Its reopening on Broadway after the World Trade Center tragedy has been a test of audience loyalty in the arts, one that Sullivan says is being met with courage.
"Certainly when we started performing again in New York, the sense of community in the room was profound," he says, "almost a defiance."
The defiance should be a welcome addition to Seattle's theater scene, where the state of national affairs has caused reshufflings and cancellations in response to the assumed desire for bland simplicity ("Irony is sort of dead in the world," the director muses). But Proof, while tightly written—Sullivan calls it "a wonderfully structured little puzzle of a play"—is not simple. The story of a troubled young mathematician, who may or may not be a genius, struggling to find faith in her sister and an attentive suitor, Auburn's script grapples with the gray areas of being alive in a world that is never as clear as we've been led to believe. It's an indication of the playwright's inherent humanity that his main hope is for audiences to leave "caring what happens to the people on stage."
Enthusiastic crowds have cared, as have peers in the theatrical community. So was it nice to win the Tony? Sullivan is able to distinguish the award's compliment from its current importance. "It was a surprise, certainly," he says with a laugh. "The excitement fades quickly. You get a lot of messages, but in the weeks afterwards, you have to remind people that you won."