Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Number at ACT

This afternoon I attended the matinee performance of Caryl Churchill's A Number at ACT. This is a two-hander that lasts less than 55 minutes & uses the concept of human cloning to explore parenting, sibling rivalry & nature vs. nuture. The play consists of 5 short scenes which are interviews between a father & his cloned sons. The story is told very efficiently, & each scene ends with an abrubt black-out.

In this production, the action plays out in a very small room that seems to be a den or an office & that floats in darkness in the middle of the stage. Our view of the room shows three walls but no windows or doors. As I was looking at this set before the show started, I already started to wonder how the actors were going to get on stage, but this mystery was revealed only at the final curtain call. Between scenes the room itself is plunged in total darkness while light show with scary music plays around the perimeters.

The play is also a showcase for the actor Josh Charles who plays the troubled son & his 2 clones. This production did a very good job differentiating the 3 identical sons by dress, mannerisms, speech & positioning in the room. At the beginning of each scene it was immediately clear which clone we were watching.

I was very engaged by the ideas of the play, its cleverness, its tightness, & its mixture of the sinister with the humorous. Although no violence occurs on stage or is even described, I think it is a very cruel & violent story. One way to summarize it is to say that it is a story about how technology allows a bad father to be even worse. It reminds me of Edward Albee's The Goat in that you immediately want to discuss it after you've seen it.

I stayed for the "informal discussion" following the performance. It was a question-and-answer session, though I wasn't clear on who the guy leading it was. During the discussion he had to explain the plot 3 different times to 3 different people.

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