Barry McNamara  |  Published November 08, 2022

‘Proof,’ Nov. 18-20

Five Monmouth theatre students blending their styles into a unified production of David Auburn’s prize-winning play.

DIRECT FROM THE DIRECTORS: From left, Drew Cliffel, Celeste Lythgoe, Daniela Lopez, Gabriela Madu... DIRECT FROM THE DIRECTORS: From left, Drew Cliffel, Celeste Lythgoe, Daniela Lopez, Gabriela Madu and Ryan Bowman discuss the College's upcoming production of David Auburn's prize-winning play "Proof."“A mathematical proof is an inferential argument for a mathematical statement, showing that the stated assumptions logically guarantee the conclusion.” – Wikipedia

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Five Monmouth College students are in the midst of attempting to solve their own complex problem, albeit a theatrical one: how can they work together creatively (and logically) to guarantee they produce a performance with a universal conclusion – a satisfied audience?

That is the challenge for seniors Drew Cliffel of Lakewood, Ohio, and Gabriela Madu of Montego Bay, Jamaica; transfer students Ryan Bowman of Monmouth and Daniela Lopez of Scottsbluff, Nebraska; and junior Celeste Lythgoe of Lafayette, Colorado, as they co-direct David Auburn’s Proof, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

“We have to blend our directing styles and mold them together so it’s one solid play and you can’t really tell it’s five of us creating one piece of art,” said Lythgoe, who finds herself in the unique position of working with both of the four-person casts for the show. “It’s been interesting to see the wildly different interpretations of the same scene.”

“We have to blend our directing styles and mold them together so it’s one solid play and you can’t really tell it’s five of us creating one piece of art.” Celeste Lythgoe


One cast will stage the opening night performance on Nov. 18, as well as the finale on Nov. 20. The other cast will stage a private preview on the day before the curtain opens, as well as the Nov. 18 performance.

“We’ve done a lot of research and analysis of the play as a group, and we’ve had discussions on how much are we willing to compromise and what are the things on which we won’t budge,” said Lythgoe, who was not familiar with the play before taking on her directing role.


‘The other side of the table’

That is also the case for Lopez, but not for the other transfer student, as Bowman played the role of Robert in a Carl Sandburg College production of Proof originally scheduled for 2020 but moved back a year due to the pandemic.

Bowman is going from an actor in Proof to its director in the span of a year, and the other four directors are also experiencing a shift.

A STAGE CLASSIC: The proof is in the awards, as the David Auburn play received the Pu... A STAGE CLASSIC: The "proof" is in the awards, as the David Auburn play received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the Tony Award for Best Play.“It’s very interesting to put on a production here from the other side of the table,” said Madu, who just weeks ago was starring in Romeo and Juliet alongside a full cast of Monmouth students. “It can be a struggle to direct your peers.”

She also has to direct one of her professors, Doug Rankin, who is playing Robert in one of the casts.

“I’m learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Madu, who along with Cliffel had prior experience with Proof during their underclass years.


The creative process

Each of the five students is assigned certain scenes to direct, which leads to another of the struggles that Madu said she and the other co-directors have experienced.

“You’re looking to find those moments when you can have some creative liberty, but also moments when you can do it with both casts,” she said. “We’re five different directors, and we have all kinds of perceptions of what the show should look like.”

“You’re looking to find those moments when you can have some creative liberty, but also moments when you can do it with both casts. We’re five different directors, and we have all kinds of perceptions of what the show should look like.” Gabriela Madu


Along with her department colleague Todd Quick, Vanessa Campagna teaches the “Principles of Directing” class in which the five student directors are enrolled.

“Students are reengaging their script analysis skills from a previous class, really mining the text to see what’s going on,” said Campagna. “We’re wrestling with some big questions about life, legacy, identity and the pursuit of truth. What truths are we willing to accept? Where does trust fit in when something hasn’t yet been proven?”

Check out the photo calls of the two casts.

Proof has been called “an intriguing story about family, truth, gender and mental health, set in the context of academic mathematics.”

“There are four amazing characters,” said Bowman. “I’ve really found a lot more to the story than I did in when I first encountered it in 2020.”

# # #

Monmouth College will present “Proof” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18-29 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Wells Theater on the College’s campus. Tickets can be purchased online at monmouthcollege.edu/box-office. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $6 for students and faculty with a Monmouth College ID.

Listen Up …

On “Monmouth Conversations” podcast, the student directors discuss brining “Proof” to the stage of the Wells Theater.

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