New Edgecliff Theatre completes its 15th season with David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Proof (onstage through Sunday at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater), a production providing ample evidence of NET’s strengths and emphasizing its mission statement “to create a powerful artistic experience utilizing local professionals and stressing the fundamental communion between actor and audience.” Proof is the story of a young woman whose life has remained on hold while she’s served as a caretaker for her brilliant but unstable father, a math professor.
Rebecca Whatley, who spent the 2008-2009 season as an intern with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, plays Catherine. She combines the role’s intelligence and self-doubt with a dose of feisty attitude that expands as the story unfolds. David Roth, who earned his M.F.A. at the University of Cincinnati and teaches drama for Cincinnati Public Schools, plays her recently deceased father, Robert, haunting her in remembered moments from her years of tending to his erratic behavior due to mental illness that she fears inheriting. Liz Smith, seen frequently with Know Theatre, as well as Cincinnati Shakespeare and Jersey Productions, is Catherine’s controlling but distant sister. A member of Actor’s Equity, the professional actors union, Smith is a local choreographer and teacher. Brandon Wentz, who teaches at Indiana State, plays Hal, an ambitious grad student mentored by Robert, whose motives for falling in love with Catherine are questionable. Director Greg Procaccino, an instructor at Northern Kentucky University and NET’s former artistic director, has effectively carried out the company’s commitment to connect with audiences employing a set (designed by Melissa Bennett and lit by Glen Goodwin) suggesting a modestly furnished porch that’s simple but functional.
NET was established by Michael Shooner in 1998, building on the concept of locally produced professional theater he first experienced at Edgecliff College, a Cincinnati institution absorbed by Xavier University in 1980, which supported a professional company where Shooner began his career.
Over the years, NET has produced 45 shows on a shoestring budget, first at the Aronoff’s black box theater where Proof is being presented, and more recently at a one-time church in Columbia-Tusculum on Cincinnati’s East Side. Noteworthy productions have included Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (2008) and Peter Shaffer’s Equus (2009), both featuring Shooner in central roles.
Jim Stump, president of the League of Cincinnati Theatres from 2005 to 2009, became NET’s artistic director in 2010. As an actor, he performed with Cincinnati Shakespeare, Know Theatre, Stage First, New Stage Collective, The Carnegie and Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company. His efforts during NET’s 15th season, beyond producing shows, have been to find a new home for the company following the unexpected closing of the Columbia Performance Center.
“The owners were ready to move on to other endeavors,” Stump says. “We had very little time to find a new space that fit our intimate style of performing. We had to cancel one production at the beginning of our season, but we’ve worked hard to produce the rest of the season for audiences … including Proof, which can be a daunting play to bring to the stage. It is definitely one with a story that keeps the audience engaged and waiting to find out what happens next.”
Stump is clear about NET’s course. “As artistic director, I want to continue bringing our audiences some of the best talent Cincinnati has to offer and showcase them in roles that challenge them as actors and directors. I believe that 20th century classics as well as some contemporary plays have the ability to do that.”
Shows for NET’s 2013-2014 season aren’t quite finalized, but Stump says the company will continue to perform at the Fifth Third Bank Theater, a very flexible space. “We look at this time of transition as an opportunity to move our company forward. In our search for a new venue, we want to find a space that works for our style of performance and that will contribute to the growth of the community we are a part of. We are looking for a venue that will be a theater space that will be accessible for all audience members and provide us with more space.” Few theater companies have lasted for 15 seasons. NET’s survival and growth offer proof (with Proof) that it’s on the right track.
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