One Out of Three Ain’t Good: “A Number”

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Presented by New Rep Theatre
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Clay Hopper

Oct. 10 – Nov. 1, 2015
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Watertown, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

Apologies to the cast, crew and staff of A Number. Mrs. Drexel caught the sniffle plague and was unable to write intelligibly.

(Watertown, MA) Churchill throws us into the middle of the conflict: Salter (Dale Place) and son are violently discussing the son’s birth origins. Regardless of the half-truths Salter weaves, it is made clear that the Bernards (Nael Nacer) is one of any number of clones. The Bernards hate each other. Salter must come to terms with his rash decision to play God. In her pithy way, Churchill approaches identity, the morality of cloning by way of personal property, and the timeless conflict between nature and nurture.

Place and Nacer hold the audience’s attention with ease for 90 minutes. Place is brutal as a John Lithgow-like Englishman who refuses to take responsibility for his actions.  Nacer tackles the two different Bernards, variations on a theme, plus one Michael with dexterity. His clones are creepily unique yet crushingly similar. It is no wonder that Salter approaches a mental breakdown with such velocity.

The set by Cristina Todesco is simple yet elegant. The design is reminiscent of test tubes lit up for Christmas. We are immediately whisked to a place free of time or specific location. A Number is a contemporary play about white people but it could be about anyone, anywhere.

Churchill postulates in A Number that environment and culture and more impact on moral character than DNA. She goes further to portray Salter as an unaccountable father with terrible parenting skills. This isn’t a petty argument about the benefits of Dr. Spock over Dr. Sears. The Bernards are his failed experiments. Cloning is his excuse for bad behavior.  Just because something isn’t illegal yet, that doesn’t make it morally acceptable.

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