A Number, now playing at the Cherry Lane Studio Theater through April 3rd, explores the definition of self, by taking the idea of cloning down to a very intimate level. It is a counter-intuitive way to look at cloning, but extremely effective in addressing the issues that arise for the individual. What defines a person as unique? And how unique can a person be when there are exact copies at a DNA level? In unexpected ways, these questions effect all people - how much of “ourselves” are based on traits we have no control over?
This is no science-fiction exploration of the mechanics or even possibility of cloning; it is an emotional piece dealing with the after effects of the act.
James Saito plays Slater, a father who has cloned his only son, after the loss of his wife and child. Slater is not forthcoming about the fact of his son’s birth, revealing both the act of cloning and his motivations only when confronted by his son. Mr. Saito does a great job of opening up only as much as he is forced to, and only when he is forced to. It is clear that he has no desire to share information with his son. He is a father required to justify actions he hoped would never be exposed, and Mr. Saito does an excellent job with the role. He is nervous not because of what he did, but of the rift it may inflict on his relationship.
Joel de la Fuente plays the son, in three different incarnations over the course of the quick play. The confusion and questions about the manner of his birth both confuse and anger him. And the fact of cloning, the fact that he isn’t the original frustrates him - even though intellectually he realizes it is no different than having a twin.
Part of the beauty of A Number derives from the quiet moments of the play when trying to understand the motivations of Slater, and so I don’t want to share too much of the plot. It is enough to say that the father’s motivation is universal and understandable, albeit a little self-serving.
On the other hand, the weakness of the piece is in the hurriedness of much of the dialog. Executing interrupted dialog is a tricky business. When it works, it mimics real life in an intense manner. And in A Number, it works most of the time. But when it doesn’t work, uninterrupted sentences sit half finished; raising the question if the though was unfinished or if the interruption just didn’t come fast enough on queue. This manner of speaking is a character trait of the father, and mimicked in the son, so it is pretty constant in the play. It is obvious when it misfires.
As written by Carly Churchill and directed by Maureen Payne-Hahner, A Number flows quickly at a nice pace. Even though it is short, plenty of time is given to absorb the material. A less confident playwright might have stretched this character study out too long, instead this play clocks in less than 90 minutes. The decision to have Joel de la Fuente make minor wardrobe changes on stage to indicate different characters is a great and effective device to break the scene without breaking the mood.
I recommend A Number, is a thought provoking and interesting look at personality and humanity. The show uses cloning not as a gimmick, but as a tool to investigate our uniqueness and commonality.
Playwright: Carly Churchill
Director: Maureen Payne-Hahner
Cast: James Saito, Joel de la Fuente