Questions, confessions, morals and ethics are the name of the game in the fascinating play, A NUMBER by Caryl Churchill. "[They have] damaged your uniqueness and weakened your identity" is the theme explored in this intellectual play about the ramifications of cloning.
For just an hour long show, A NUMBER packs a wallop and grabs your attention from the beginning. I was asking myself as many questions as The Players on stage were - What number? How many of them are there? How did this happen? What are these things? What happened to the original? Even for the challenging content, there were several humorous moments and playwright Caryl Churchill hooked the audience from the get-go and kept all of us on the line throughout.
There are so many plot twists and turns, I felt like I was on a tilt-a-whirl. This story follows The Common literary and social theme of nature vs. nurture. The father in the story finds himself confronted with the son he raised, a clone ("I'm just a copy, not the original one"), and the son he contributed DNA to by traditional means and then subsequently sent away. Towards the end though, the play takes a 180 degree turn. After tragedy stikes, the father reaches out to one of his son's clones, who is happily married with children and quite amused at his status of being a clone. The father tries desperately to connect on a personal level, but neither nature nor nurture applies since this clone was never a part of the father's world - emotionally, physically, or cognitively. In a dystopic storytelling turn, the father is left alone with carbon copies of his son to constantly remind him of his loss. Ultimately, this play poses philosophical questions grounded in value judgments, and speaks to the human need for connection and acceptance. With the contemporary discourse surrounding the subject of human cloning, questions that arise often have to do with the ethical considerations of scientific progress. Is it good? Is it bad? When the values of scientific exploration collide with more traditional values, is either side the victor? A NUMBER leaves the answers to each of us.
Because of the amazing talent showcased in this production, it felt like more than a two-person show. Timothy McCracken is to be commended for his fascinating transformations between the three characters and for doing such a wonderful job giving each one a unique stage presence. Trying to figure out which clone is which could have mentally tasked the audience to the point of exhaustion, but the simple use of a jacket kept the clones identical, yet different. The tortured father character was also up to par, thanks to the superb casting of gifted actor John Hutton, who navigated some tricky emotional terrain as the bereaved and regretful father.
It is obvious set designer Brian Mallgrave put a lot of thought into the stage. I loved the subtle symbolism woven into the architecture of the set - from the strategic stacking of windows three stories high (which gave the stage such dimension) to the bannister curving around the set like a double helix of DNA. I also found it interesting that there was a door on the set that was never used and the fact that the actors never left the stage. This theatrical technique not only kept the pacing consistent, it also helped illustrate the father's ultimate torture along with a broader philosophical theme - we can never escape the consequences of our choices. Some are simply unwilling to let us go. Major kudos to director Christy Montour-Larson for taking on the challenge of such a unique play and presenting it with emotion and awareness. She is to be credited with turning A NUMBER into a #1 Curious Theatre masterpiece!
For a truly unique story and superb acting, A NUMBER should be your #1 show to see. It will challenge your intellect and make you question what you think you know. Are our identities shaped solely by nature? Solely by nurture? Indeed, "what is in a number?"
A NUMBER is the last show of Curious Theatre's thirteenth season and is playing now through June 17th. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 303-623-0524 or visit www.curioustheatre.com.