Cloning aside, 'Number' takes taut look at fathers, sons

Monday, September 10, 2007
The Arizona Republic

In A Number, a young man is told that his birth was actually part of a cloning experiment, that there are several genetically identical copies of him out there somewhere, living their own lives. He doesn't know how to react.

His father's first thought is to hire a lawyer. "They've damaged your uniqueness, weakened your identity," he says, "so we're looking at 5 million for a start."

This question of identity is only one of the ideas explored in this compact drama, which opens the season for alternative troupe Stray Cat Theatre. But Caryl Churchill, a leading English playwright, is interested in more than the intellectual ramifications of her sci-fi premise. A Number isn't just about cloning, but about fathers and sons, unforgivable sins and the search for redemption.

It's a difficult script, filled with staccato starts and stops, but the two actors are able to find not only the rhythm of the language, but the humanity - and yes, the uniqueness - underlying the words.

David Barker, an Arizona State University theater professor, journeys from ponderous pronouncements to a wheedling physicality as his layers of pretense are stripped to reveal the ugliness beneath. And Benjamin Monrad rises to the challenge of playing not one role but three, highlighting both the sameness and the difference of men who share the same genes but vastly different experiences.

The actors' English accents would not fool a native ear, but they are close enough to allow the suspension of disbelief. More importantly, the accents aren't employed merely to create ambience but to reveal character.

Director Ron May also makes deft use of a simple dining-room set with minimal props. With the exception of some ham-handed lighting changes, this is a nearly pitch-perfect production that proves it doesn't take a huge technical budget to deliver great drama.

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A Number