In 2001, just one month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Newburyport’s Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan and her daughter took a trip to New York City. The visit was meant to honor the city and its thriving culture.
The pair decided to go to as many plays on Broadway as possible. One of those productions was "Proof."
"We were so impressed with its incredible language and production," Bryan recalled this week. Leaving the theater, Bryan thought of the Firehouse Center for the Arts and how wonderful it would be to stage the play in that venue.
Meanwhile, life continued, and Bryan soon cut back on her involvement with the community theater to return full-time to nursing. But when she retired from that career in 2009, she again returned to her hobby. She wrote and directed an original work, "Forbidden Newburyport," last summer.
The production was such a success and so much fun for the community, the Firehouse's artistic director Kimm Wilkinson asked her to consider directing another show. The Firehouse's development director Beth Falconer had recently secured an anonymous donation to be used to stage live theater.
Bryan's thoughts returned to "Proof."
Set in Chicago, it tells the story of Catherine, a depressed young woman who dropped out of college to return home and care for her ailing father. The plot deals with the topic of mental illness and examines a variety of issues and relationships, such as fathers and daughters, genius and insanity, legacy and truth. "Proof" has won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, notes the theater.
"It's intelligent, it's rich," she said. "It's a great play for the Firehouse and Newburyport. It's so thought-provoking."
Caring for someone with mental illness can be difficult, Bryan said, and the play addresses many questions related to that care.
The cast includes: Elizabeth Pasarilla of Beverly as "Catherine," Paul Wann of Newbury as "Robert," Jason Novak of Newburyport as "Hal" and Mara Flynn of Maine as "Claire."
"I have a dream cast," Bryan said. "They're all just a joy to work with."
In addition to the talent on the stage, Bryan's production was aided by some very talented community members behind the scenes. Newburyport's David Stawasz, a recently retired theater set designer, offered his skills and designed a complete set for the show. Fred LaRouche, also of Newburyport, constructed it.
Ralph Castagna, owner of Castagna Construction in Newburyport, allowed the theater to use space on his property to build the set.
"I can't tell you enough how much community involvement there was, and how much cooperation. It truly was a team effort. I feel so lucky to have this incredible group of people working to bring this amazing play to the people of Newburyport," Bryan said.
Wilkinson praised the community members for getting involved and allowing the project to go smoothly.
"Our thank-you list is huge," she said. "It really has been seamless, and it's really been exciting from the beginning."
IF YOU GO
What: "Proof" by David Auburn
When: Tonight through Sunday and March 15 to 18; Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
How: $22 for adults; $20 for students and seniors. Call the box office at 978-462-7336 or visit online at www.firehouse.org.