Volume 80, Number 43 | March 24 - 30, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Theater

A NUMBER
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Maureen Payne-Hahner
Through April 3
Tues.-Sat. at 7:30pm; Sat. at 3pm; Sun. at 2pm 
At the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (38 Commerce St.).
For tickets ($25), visit telecharge.com,
call 212-239-6200 or purchase at the box office
Visit naatco.org

Photo by William P. Steele

Are we ourselves? James Saito (Salter) and Joel de la Fuente (Bernard Two) ask some big questions about identity and destiny.

He’s my son — times 21!
NAATCO’s newest slice of future life is no mere clone

BY SCOTT STIFFLER

All sons are, to some degree, failed creations — legacies of the good deeds, and damage, done by fathers who yearn for a nobler 2.0 version of themselves. And if first you don’t succeed? Try, try again (give or take 20 attempts). That’s what cloning is for.

The National Asian American Theatre Company’s world premiere of Caryl Churchill’s “A Number” tosses these and other time-honored daddy issues onto the grill — then adds a dash of futurism and a pinch of bioethics to sweeten the meat. The end product is a fast-moving conversation starter that’ll have audiences biting off more than enough to chew on.

Opening night was March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day, and a helluva difficult draw. That particular performance of “A Number” deserved to be seen by more than the nine people in attendance (a few of them were press comps, we suspect). The good news? You’ve got until April 3 to witness the usual fine performances we’ve come to expect from NAATCO — and we hope the night you see it, they’ll be playing to a packed house.

Caryl Churchill’s simple plot begins with a father and son considering the legal, moral and ethical implications of a recently revealed situation in which clones of the son — lots of them — are running around waiting to be bumped into. That vaguely futuristic biotech premise isn’t really what playwright Churchill’s concerned about, though. Like most enduring sci-fi, it’s just an intriguing hook to get us thinking about ancient sources of human conflict — in this case, that moment in time when a father and son are both old enough to reflect on how their own failures and shortcomings have become inexplicably, sadly intertwined.

James Saito as Salter is alternately sympathetic and maddening as a father who sputters his way through hidden agendas cloaked in regret and self-justification. Joel de la Fuente, as the original son and two cloned variations, makes every other actor you’ve seen doing the good twin/bad twin thing seem positively trite in comparison (technically, he’s playing clones — which is trickier than playing twins).

There aren’t many satisfying answers here (none at all, in fact). Still, like all NAATCO undertakings, it’s done with skill and grace and an uncommon concern for shining a light on our moral obligation to be worthy residents of this particular patch of space and time. Highly recommended.

 

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