Seattle Center, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 443-2222, $10-$44 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. and Wed., Nov. 7 ends Sat., Nov. 10
DAVID AUBURN'S Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Proof is a tidy play about messy things. Catherine (Chelsea Altman) is a pretty 25-year-old, one of those smart, funny, compelling young women who always seem troubled by something just beyond their reach. She may be a mathematical genius and, not coincidentally, may also be mad; both possibilities she inherited from her late, brilliant father (Robert Foxworth), a beguilingly combative professor we get to know in flashbacks. "I think that you have some of his talent," her efficient sister Claire (Tasha Lawrence) tells her, "and some of his tendency toward instability."
Director Daniel Sullivan moves through all the tension—between Catherine and Claire, between Catherine and her father, between Catherine and Hal (Stephen Kunken), one of her father's amiably earnest prot駩s, between Catherine and herself—with a lucidity that sees everything and doesn't need to make a lot of noise about it. Sullivan (who himself won a Tony for this show) hasn't made Moments out of moments. When Catherine catches her breath, amazed at her own happiness after a romp with Hal, the tremulous affection that causes her to share with him a closely guarded secret moves you because you're allowed the wonderful illusion that you're the only one who has noticed what's happened and where it may be headed.
The entire production is marked by similar restraint, though sometimes I wish the Rep's design team would take a breath and calmly count to 10 before responding to stage descriptions like "the back porch of a house in Chicago" (yep, the esteemed John Lee Beatty has gone ahead and built the whole damn house—beautifully, of course, and who am I to question something that worked on Broadway, right?). Foxworth is perfectly grizzled and charming as Catherine's beloved father (and not in any of the treacly ways that would've ruined it), and Lawrence has real snap and enough sense to know where to take it without turning Claire into The Villain. Kunken, too, plays with layers of fallibility that never seem to make him anything less than human. Only Altman is a half-step from where you'd want her to be: She's attractive and funny with Catherine's wryness, and you care about her, but she doesn't quite pull off the character's dubious distractedness- that fizzy, mercurial frustration that we need to believe has both Claire and Hal concerned for her mental well-being.
Still, the production captures the best of the play—it feels young and vital and shaken by the tiny terrors of the world yet assured enough to let you feel as though you're in capable hands for the evening.