Monday, June 09, 2008

A Number

Caryl Churchill’s “A Number,” now at Capitol Stage in Sacramento has been called the first 21st Century play, for, indeed, it deals with subjects that at one time seemed a part of science fiction, and now are at least possible, if on the distant horizon.

The characters are “Father” (Loren Taylor) and “Son” (Gillen Morrison) and the subject is human cloning, a subject which asks many questions, not the least of which is – who are we, really? Are we our DNA? Are we the products of our upbringing? And the ever popular “Nature vs. nurture?”

Son has just discovered that he has been cloned. That there are “a number” of clones and he realizes that he doesn’t know whether he’s a clone, or the original. Surely he must be the original. He feels like the original.

In an opening dialog which has all the rapid-fire crispness of a ping pong game, we watch Son’s deepening confusion and father’s growing anger that the hospital should take such liberties. They circle the stage like a couple of prize fighters, son gradually seeing the positive aspects of there being more than one of him, father seizing the opportunity to get “a lot of money” from the hospital, son seeing the down side of cloning–who is he? And how many others are there?

Father tries to explain how a clone might have been made–maybe when son was born, or maybe when he broke his leg and was in the hospital. Maybe they took scrapings of his skin.

He’s all for profiting from the illegal use of his son’s DNA. “They’ve damaged your uniqueness, weakened your identity...”

As the discussion progresses, father’s story began to crumble and he begins to reveal that he’s not as innocent as he first stated. In fact, his wife and son were killed in an auto accident and he was so distraught at losing his beloved son that he agreed to have him cloned.

Or is that really the story?

The piece is only 65 minutes long, but director Stephanie Gularte makes certain that it is a roller coaster ride from start to finish.

Morrison has the opportunity to stretch his acting chops to become three very different personalities, as first one, and then another of the clones (or is one of them the original?) interacts with Father, each expressing his own feeling about the cloning experiment..

Each discussion with Father reveals a bit more of father’s story and wipes away the warmhearted person we saw in the opening moments of the play. Taylor’s performance matches Morrison’s in its multi-faceted complexity.

Apparently mother died under questionable circumstances–was it an auto accident? Did she commit suicide? Was it something else? Father becomes more and more evasive on the subject. We eventually discover that he apparently botched the fathering of his young son and he wants a second chance, hence the cloning.

But what became of the original? Was he killed, as the father first states, or did he survive? And if he survived, where has he been all these years?

Jonathan Williams’ somewhat stark set (a couch and some light-filled columns) adds to the futuristic feel of the play, along with Steve Decker’s lighting design, creating the mood for each meeting with a subsequent clone. Brad Thompson’s sound design, with its relentless heart beat, adds an element of suspense.

Capitol Stage’s production of “A Number” will be one that you will long remember.

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