PicksInSix Review: A NUMBER Writers Theatre
“You’re travelling through another dimension…”
The first clue into the core of the chillingly relevant production of Caryl Churchill’s “A Number,” now playing at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, can be found in a program stuffed with references from the 1960s era Rod Serling Twilight Zone series and shades of the 1997 film sci-fi thriller, Gattaca. And when this intense observation of the social and ethical implications of human cloning set at some point in the not-to-distant future concludes, you may see things quite differently the next time you look in the mirror.
You do not have to be a big fan of the futuristic genre to be thoroughly engrossed and captivated by the extraordinary performances of William Brown as Salter and Nate Burger as Bernard in the story about a father and son who are trying to unravel the consequences of past decisions. A slew of the possible outcomes inherent in bio-engineering come into play throughout, all requiring us to imagine well beyond the purpose of genetic science as a means to improve the human health condition to a new and disturbing frontier that allows the arbitrary redefinition of family identity.
Churchill’s compelling work, rich with a distinctive narrative cadence, poses significant questions in the cloning debate. It answers only a few of these questions and leaves the rest for you to ponder on the way home. Robin Witt’s absorbing direction would make Serling proud. There were several moments in the fast-moving 65-minute drama when I heard Serling’s resonate, atonal voice bouncing around in my head saying, “You’re traveling through another dimension.”
Among the baffling questions you will ponder will be not so much, “How did we get to a world like this?”—a question many of us are asking every day in our own life and times—but, rather, “How do we avoid a future state where individual identity is threatened?” “What happens to our fears and the resentment, guilt, grief and anger that are stripped away in the process?” And, “When we tamper with the essence of life in search of ultimate perfection, what if we fall short?”
“A Number,” written in 2002, plays out in six stanzas and is the only science fiction offering in Churchill’s vast and impressive body of work. The urban interior set design by Courtney O’Neill is nestled neatly in the Gillian Theatre with subtly nuanced costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg, Brandon Wardell’s sparse lighting and Thomas Dixon’s evocative sound, which all combine seamlessly to allow Brown and Burger full range to explore the murky depth of the material.
When I first saw “Gattaca,” which will have a screening and discussion as part of Writers’ fine educational outreach program, I recall that it landed on me as pure science fiction. The science behind genetic perfection has evolved all these years later, and yet “A Number” remains a stark and searing drama, as if ahead of its time. So, with apologies to Mr. Serling, consider this a journey “into a wonderous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead–your next stop…”
PHOTOS | Michael Brosilow
through June 9th
WT’s Gillian Theatre
325 Tudor Court
For more reviews, visit: Theatre In Chicago