The numbers game
Actors Andrew Stevens and Danielle Siata talk about how they plumb their characters for an Evolution Theatre Company production.
Harold Dobbs — Andrew Stevens
As audiences recently saw in Evolution Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, character acting is Andrew Stevens’ strength.
He enjoys comic and musical roles but cast as Harold “Hal” Dobbs in Evolution’s upcoming production of American playwright David Auburn’s drama, Proof, Stevens has to reach deep inside of himself to tap the nuances of his character, a mathematics protege.
The play centres on Catherine (played by Danielle Siata). Hal knows Catherine as the daughter of Robert (Hugo McGuinness), a mathematical genius and professor at the University of Chicago.
Catherine, no mean mathematician herself, cares for her father as his mental condition degenerates.
Robert has been a mentor to Hal.
“When Hal meets Robert, Hal has stalled and is struggling with his thesis,” says Stevens.
“Robert has had some breakthroughs in various fields and helps him, as an adviser, to get through his PhD.
“Harold owes Robert a lot. Without Robert he wouldn’t be able to complete his thesis.”
During his time under Robert’s guidance and assistance, Hal hasn’t formally met Catherine.
“Hal’s a geek, a bit of a nerd. But he’s a modern geek. He’s in a band, he plays the drums. He does a bit of fitness and teaches other students.
“He’s just a normal guy who grew up in Chicago and hasn’t progressed further than that. Even with his PhD he never got that groundbreaking discovery that could push him further on.”
When circumstances change Hal feels obliged to help in some way.
In an attempt at flirtation, Hal invites Catherine to see his band but a misunderstanding puts a stop to that.
In what might seem a typical Hal moment, Catherine suspects he’s trying to steal something.
“Hal means well,” says Stevens.
“He’s a nice guy. He has no confidence when it comes to females and he’s inexperienced dealing with women.
“Tensions flare over a misunderstanding. Hal keeps putting his foot in his mouth despite having the right intentions.”
Hal is later excited about the discovery of one of Robert’s notebooks which holds a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers.
The play’s plot takes an unpredictable turn that will not be revealed here except to say it is subtler, more poignant and more thought-provoking than the thriller device of plagiarism or intellectual property theft.
This is a play driven by character more than plot, says Stevens.
“This is the first time I’ve experienced having to go inside myself and start to feel and experience these feelings and express them more subtly.
“It’s the toughest role I’ve taken on due to the emotional depth. You draw more on your experience. It is one of my most challenging roles to date because of the level of focus required.
“There are so many different levels. It makes you think about Alzheimer’s, mental illness and depression. Maybe you can still produce — people deal with that all the time.
“This is a genuine deep-feel show.”
Catherine — Danielle Siata
Danielle Siata also enjoyed the frivolousness and wit of Evolution Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest in which she played modern Victorian young lady Gwendolen.
But, as Catherine in the drama Proof, Siata has more layers in her character to explore.
Although Catherine has inherited much of her father’s mathematical genius, she gave up her schooling to take care of him during his slow decline.
The question of whether Catherine has also inherited Robert’s mental illness lingers in the mind of other characters.
“It’s been a lot more intense,” says Siata of the play.
“It’s a big shift from a funny character role to something that is a bit more real life. There is so much going on in such a short period of time.”
Like Stevens, Siata has dug deep to find aspects of the character she plays in this Dinna Myers-directed production.
“We have had lots of discussions and shared what’s happened in our lives,” says Siata. “There are a lot of times in this play when I have to be vulnerable. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who enable me do that.”
While Catherine has absorbed considerable mathematical knowledge from her father, even she is concerned she might have inherited his mental illness.
Others too might question her mental health but she has plenty to deal with, particularly the void in her life.
“She has dropped out of school to look after her father,” says Siata. “He supported her and her genius. This is all she has known for the past few years.
“Her sister left but is now back and taking over and thinks she knows best. But Catherine hasn’t had a chance to get her head around what’s going on. She is essentially very alone.”
The drama is not relentlessly serious though, she says.
“There are definitely funny parts in there. Like Hal — he’s a bit of a geek and comes out with dorky dad jokes.”
In a flashback, the audience also sees a more playful, fun side to Catherine. It is only later she becomes slobby and indifferent to life, says Siata.
In one crucial aspect of the play, Hal doesn’t want to believe that either. Despite this, Catherine and Hal have this relationship, says Siata.
“They clearly have a connection. They have a little moment and there is a spark.
“After a magical night the relationship turns when he doesn’t believe in her. Very quickly the relationship shifts from one thing to another. The end of the show leaves you thinking ‘what will happen to them?’”