Havre Daily News
Montana State University-Northern computer information systems professor Roger Stone always encourages his students to try new things. Lately, he's been taking his own advice.
Stone will have his on-stage debut tonight at the opening of the Montana Actors' Theatre production of "Proof," a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play about family relationships.
The two-act play by David Auburn runs tonight through Saturday and again April 27-30 at the MSU-N Little Theatre in Cowan Hall. The performances begin at 8 p.m., with a bar hosted by Northwinds opening an hour earlier.
Stone, who has never acted before, plays Robert, a brilliant mathematician who suffers from mental illness. Robert's death leaves his daughter, Catherine - who has taken care of him for years - to face questions concerning her own mental stability.
When he first began memorizing the script, Stone was "swimming in words," he said, but director Carly Booth and his fellow cast members have helped him progress and he has learned to appreciate the complexity of theater.
"Every single practice is something new, something I had never thought of," Stone said. "(Theater) is just so much more complicated than you would ever think. These guys have been great. I couldn't have done it without them. I would encourage anybody to do this. I am evidence that it can be done. They've really pushed my envelope here, and that's healthy."
"Proof" is a contemporary drama about human relationships, with comedic touches and some adult language, Booth said. The production is her full-length directorial debut.
"I think the thing about this play is that it's so real," she said. "It's a play about four people who are really good at everything except understanding one another. It's a family drama. It's really easy to relate to the things that you see on the stage in this play."
Catherine - played by Suzanne Tilleman - struggles to define her relationships with her controlling older sister, Claire, played by Pam Veis, and with a former student of her father's named Hal, who is played by Rob Everingham. She also struggles to deal with the inheritance of her father's genius and, quite possibly, his insanity.
"My character kind of falls into a gray area," Tilleman said. "My dad, you know he's nuts, but it's very questionable if I am. I don't think you ever really know if she's sane."
Tilleman, who teaches business at MSU-N, said she acted in high school and college and played a part in a MAT production three years ago. She also serves on the community theater's board. She said Catherine was both a delight and a challenge to play.
"She's a fun character, not only because she's slightly mentally ill and she swears a lot, but because she's really smart," Tilleman said. "There aren't many female characters that are truly smart. They're often comic or tragic roles."
She added that though the play is metaphoric and dramatic at times, people who watch it will be able to relate to it.
"I think it tries to draw the parallel that - in math, you can have a proof. It's cut and dry. But in life, in human relations, it's really not like that," she said. "I think most people who watch it will see some very funny, maybe painfully funny, family relationships that we all see in our own lives. We can laugh at them while they're on stage."
The performance will be a curtain call of sorts for Tilleman, who will soon leave Havre to work on her doctorate at the University of Oregon. She grew up here and said she and her husband will return when her studies are complete.
Everingham said the play is well-written and will ring true for audiences.
"The dynamics between the characters in this play really hit home with people," he said. "These are arguments that people have had with their siblings and with their parents. I think there are a lot of moments that will be real for the people in the audience."
Everingham said it was a bit challenging to get back into the swing of performing on stage, something he hasn't done since high school. He works for KBBJ Channel 9 in Havre, a satellite station of Helena's KTVH Channel 12.
Veis said her character, Claire, is the controlling and hard-working older sister of Catherine.
"She is compassionate toward her family and she's doing what she thinks is best," Veis said.
Veis, who works at Golden Triangle Mental Health, said the play does justice to families dealing with mental illness.
"It deals with mental illness in a unique way," she said. "There are so many people throughout history, brilliant people, who have battled with a mental disorder. I'm really glad (Auburn) wrote a script that's so poignant and dignified and tells a really unique story."
Veis echoed the sentiments of her other cast members by saying that Booth has done a great job directing.
"She's just been fantastic," Veis said. "It's really been one of the most positive productions I've worked on."
Booth, who grew up in Havre and earned a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Montana in Missoula, said she learned a lot about herself while directing. The play is also a big step for MAT, which has become an outlet for Havre homegrown talent, she added.
"There are tons of people in this town who are really good at theater, who are really good at so many things," she said. "It's a really good venue."
Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for students at the door. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at Creative Leisure. MSU-N students can get in free by picking up tickets at the Student Union Building information desk.