Theatre Review



Caryl Churchill's A Number is One-of-a-Kind


Event  Information

Chapel Hill -- ( Wed., Sep. 7, 2011 - Sun., Sep. 11, 2011 )

PlayMakers Repertory Company: A Number
$35-$10. -- Kenan Theatre , 919/962-PLAY (7529) , http://www.playmakersrep.org/

September 11, 2011 - Chapel Hill, NC:


PlayMakers Repertory Company Second Stage Series presented Caryl Churchill's A Number September 7 through 11 as the opening show in the 2011-12 season. Directed by Mike Donahue, the two actor show takes a look into the life of a man, Salter, who must confront the consequences of his past. Salter, played by Ray Dooley, must answer to his son, played by Josh Barrett, when his son discovers himself to be a clone. Barrett also plays Salter's biological son and another clone, each of whom confer with Salter about his actions.

As Director Donahue said, the play becomes a "study of extreme denial." Salter repeatedly denies, lies, and misleads in his story-telling until he finally arrives at what the audience can believe might actually be the truth. We are left to believe that a rehabilitated man wanted a second chance at having a beautiful son so he turned to science to recreate his son in the form of a clone. After raising that son – even with the same name as his first son – Salter's actions are discovered. He must finally come to terms not only with his terrible shortcomings as the father of his first son but also with the fact that he was willing to deny that existence and start anew. It is then revealed to Salter that there are many clones of his son – not just the one he paid to have created. Salter's biological son returns and murders the clone Salter raised before committing suicide. Salter is left to feel a double loss for both of his sons.

The scenic elements were minimalist and yet the space remained very intimate. The creative team decided to have Barrett transform into his three characters by adding shirts and changing shoes while onstage. Watching the metamorphosis allowed the audience to experience the transition and served the story very well.  The lighting and sound were beautifully synced with the actors' movements and dialogue so each scene ended crisply and with punctuation.  The show was delightful not only because Churchill's language so wonderfully mirrors actual speech but also because the actors were so clearly present. All elements of the work – from the actors to the costumes, the set, the lights, and the sound – were so in tune with one another. The piece was cohesive and full of life. Director Donahue noted in a talk-back session after the performance that the beauty of the script – and its challenge – is that there's so much to explore within the world Churchill creates and the exploration can go on forever in a bottomless process of discovery.

After leaving the performance, the story stayed with me, and I continued to stew over what I had experienced. The piece was inspiring and PlayMakers Second Stage Series gave an excellent production. A Number leaves its audience questioning, "What if I am a number?"