Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stray Cat Theatre, EXIT Theatre @ Metro Arts
Phoenix, AZ

Exquisite acting and a fascinating script are the flawless ingredients that make up the new theater season’s first huge hit, Stray Cat Theatre’s A Number.

The play explores cloning and it takes audiences on a scary journey that looks at this subject through a bizarre father and son relationship. The one-act drama brings new considerations to cloning. Salter, the father, discusses his cloning fears with his son, Bernard, but there is great tension in the relationship. Salter wanted to clone his perfect son. As the play proceeds and we watch the father and son battle, we learn Salter’s real son was killed by Bernard. Bernard is one of 19 clones of Salter’s real son and they weren’t all created legally.

A Number speculates that cloning doesn’t always result in an exact copy and the Bernard we watch is apparently more forceful and belligerent than the real son. This Bernard doesn’t have the laid back, low-key approach we see in Michael, another incorrect clone of Salter’s son, who is so good that Salter thinks him weirdly phony.

This play is challenging because of the acting demands placed on the two actors who portray the complex roles. One actor, here David Barker, plays Salter. The other actor, Benjamin Monrad, plays three versions of Salter’s son. And since each of these three sons is so different, the actor must make each portrait distinctive. Monrad exquisitely plays these three sons uniquely but he gives each a context of similarity. Monrad’s complex presentation is one of the finest acting performances I’ve ever seen locally.

But Monrad’s brilliance in no way stifles Barker who crafts a strong and clear portrait of Salter. This father is afraid of the many illegal son clones because each is so different that he is never sure just how to act with each. Barker is always on edge in his artful performance.

A Number comes from playwright Caryl Churchill’s genius in her sharp script. The ideas she explores are so different from anything you’d expect on cloning because we usually assume clones are exact copies, an idea not in the playwright’s mind here.

Ron May stages A Number stunningly. From the moment the drama begins, May creates, through his two outstanding performers, a throbbing power that will make your skin crawl. May’s production is aided by David J. Castellano’s stark and simple set. This room in Salter’s house is surrounded by mirrors. The reflections further intensify the play and stress the unusual cloning definitions.

Stray Cat Theatre’s A Number is a brilliant start to the new theater season. It continues through September 22. Don’t miss it. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or go online at www.straycattheatre.org.

Grade: A

A Number