|Aurora photo by David Allen|
I have sort of mixed reactions to Caryl Churchill's plays. Some are truly innovative and interesting, such as Top Girls, while others such as Love and Information don't seem very well developed. This play, A Number, is more of the first type, innovative and thought-provoking.
The PlayThe play is short, and involves only two actors, and can easily be staged in a small space. That's good, because Aurora set the show in their "Upstage" theater, where we've seen a couple of other shows recently. It works well there, as it's easy to see everything in great detail.
Written in 2002 and set in "the near future," A Number explores some of the emotional and philosophical issues involved in human cloning. Some of it seems a little naive and dated, but on the whole it's a pretty interesting piece.
The central character is Salter, who gets visited by three of his sons, one at a time, all of whom are clones. Maybe. The story changes as we proceed, starting with Salter explaining that his real son died (with his mother) in an accident, and since that son was so perfect, he had him cloned so he could have him back. But it turns out there are other clones out there, that perhaps the lab that cloned the kid made others, a number of others, in fact.
But as each of the sons interacts with Salter, the story changes a bit. One son is actually the original, maybe, so (obviously) he didn't die, but his father had other reasons for wanting a clone of his perfect son. Both of these first sons feel a great degree of angst about having another of them (or perhaps a number of other thems) about, and they express that in various ways. So there is investigation of the notion of identity and uniqueness. How are clones different from twins, for example? What does it matter if there are a number of essentially identical people out there? And just how identical are they, besides having the same genes?
All good questions, but it's a good thing the play doesn't go on too long with it, because there is a limit to how much angst one can handle on this subject. There is definitely a lot of intensity.
I quite like the last scene, where a third cloned son meets Salter, but this one has basically no concerns whatsoever about the whole scenario, which Salter finds somewhat disturbing. I quite like the pushback of having a character who seems to be completely at home in his own skin, unconcerned that there might be other, quite similar people in quite similar skins, too.
On the whole, I suppose the play generates a bit more heat than light, but it does cover a pretty good range of the ethical and personal issues involved with human cloning.
The ProductionI'll be brief here, since you missed it. The set (designed by Michael Locher) was small and quite simple: a round, basically white room with a couple of chairs, a desk, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Jim Cave's lights and Matt Stines' soundscape do a good job of creating the tense, intense atmosphere for the play.
Paul Vincent O'Connor portrays Salter throughout, and he's quite good up close. Joseph Patrick O'Malley plays all the cloned sons, and does a great job of creating the characters with both similarities and differences, with only very slight changes in Christine Crook's costumes signifying which son we see at the moment. O'Malley is really quite masterful in coherently portraying the three different, yet essentially similar characters, so that really worked.
Bottom LineThe show was quite well done, and I was glad we went to see it. Overall, I don't think the subject matter turned out to be as important or controversial as Churchill probably anticipated fifteen years ago, but it does make for an interesting character study in any case.
Good job by Aurora and the crew on this one. I'm so far consistently impressed with the shows I've seen in their small upstage theater.