A Number finishes up
Inside Bay Area
By Sally Hogarty
Posted 2/04/2010

Last chance to catch James Carpenter and Gabriel Marin in Center REP's new look at Caryl Churchill's astonishing, compact drama about a father and several cloned versions of his son. 8:15 p.m. today-Sat., 2:15 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Center Repertory Company, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. $45. (925) 943-7469. www.centerrep.org.

IF YOU HAVEN'T had time to catch Center Rep's "Off Center" series, you still have this weekend to do it.

Caryl Churchill's thought-provoking one-act "A Number" closes Sunday at the Lesher Center's intimate Knight III. Directed by Michael Butler and performed by two dynamic actors (James Carpenter and Gabriel Marin), this show is a fascinating piece of theater.

It is an intriguing hour of superb acting and outrageous ideas, as a father is confronted by his son — who is actually a clone of his real son — and the fact that the doctor evidently made more than one clone, unbeknown to the father. It gets rather complicated as Churchill deals with the implications of scientific advancements and the consequences of ineffectual parenting.

Marin plays three different characters to perfection, with Carpenter splendid as the guilt-ridden father. Churchill's staccato-like language adds even more urgency to the ever-evolving story.

Call 925-943-SHOW or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.


Center REP clones perfect performances in A Number!
Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times
Posted 1/27/2010

This is neither Arthur Miller's All My Sons, nor Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons.

Instead, Caryl Churchill's A Number, currently on stage at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, is a story of a number of sons — three that we see on stage in the person of actor Gabriel Marin — and a number of others we don't see, all apparently fathered, with the help of science, by a man played by James Carpenter. And possibly a mother, who was either killed in a car crash or took her own life, who may also have had something to do with this bizarre cloning more than three decades earlier.

The father just mutters there could be big money, lawsuit-big money, in this deal.

Not much is crystal clear in this blend of "Twilight Zone"-style shaggy dog story and fevered fantasy from Churchill, whose dialogue is Mametesque and pacing is breathless. "A Number" is a confounding, sometimes perturbing and often bull-goose-loony sort of play that will leave some audience members chatting and arguing long after the final fade, and others wondering why they ventured out for something like this.

In fact, the show left me with both reactions, but I'm glad to have seen it, if for no other reason than to see just how incredible a reaction Churchill is able to get out of a conversation between two men; it is a genuine mind-bending experience. Also, there is pitch-perfect acting by Carpenter and Marin and tight-as-a-drum direction by Center REP's artistic director Michael Butler.

It unfolds that the clones were created illegally after the father had a doctor make a copy from the genetic material of his son, killed with his mother in an accident. Or perhaps not. The only thing that's certain here is that a number of copies, clones, uh, extra people, have been created somehow. And all those sons, and even dear old Dad, aren't certain who is the real deal — a ticklish premise that has you playing scenarios in your head not long after the play begins.

A Number is the first of Center REP's Off Center play series, staged in the Lesher Center's Knight Stage 3 theater, and it's an excellent choice to launch the series, which will feature newer, more intimate works that would either not work as part of the company's regular schedule or would be better in a smaller venue.

The program also gives local audiences a chance to see plays that might be less likely to be produced close to home.

The production was presented in the round, with the action unfolding on an oblong stage, just slightly off the floor. The set is just about all white, which gives the piece an almost ethereal feel.


A Number of us out there
Piedmont Post
By Kathryn Abajian
Posted 1/27/10

As humans we glory in our uniqueness and take pride in what we secretly believe makes us special. And that desire to explain ourselves to ourselves often drives our perception of our contentment in the world.

Called "the first true play of the 21st century," A Number grapples with these assumptions and confronts a fearful science that's eagerly standing on the threshold of technology, impatient for someone to unlock the door.

Caryl Churchill, whom Tony Kushner calls "the greatest living English language playwright," has created a scant hour of provocative drama that condenses indulgent theories about our unique identities into a haiku of questions: Who really owns the intellectual property that we call our identity? How much effect does a nurutring parent have on our nature (90% of which we share with apes)? What are the repercussions of abusive parenting (well, we know that one!)? But then, what happens when we have the science to start over - to raise the same child a second time to get it right?

As the first play in Center Rep's new Knight Stage 3 Theatre in Walnut Creek, A Number cuts to the chase to show the fallout from one father's selfish desire to give up on a four-year old he'd ruined and then clone that boy who'd been so sweet and beautiful as a two year old, in order to get it right the second time.

The father, played with cold sternness by James Carpenter, lies, retracts, blames and tangles a perfect web as he tries to justify his past. His irresponsibility and self-indulgence crash down on him as the play opens and the new son, now grown, questions the "truth" of his father's story.

In this production, Gabriel Marin's performances as three copies of the son, Bernard, is stunning. He becomes each copy: Bernard 1, a worrisome, nervous, jumpy young man who frets about his "damaged uniqueness"; Bernard 2, the original son, now returned with attitude, street smarts, and haunting memories of his father's callousness.

The tension that develops between the two characters, and exposition that takes place completely between the lines, is palpable. I won't reveal the surprise of the third son (or the disturbing potential of many more), but I will tell you that this theater-in-the-round production is ideal for Marin's talent; his performances is mesmerizing and strikingly believable. He also becomes our future if we don't pay careful attention.

A Number provides that prod we all need to question our assumptions. Its concentrated provocation in one hour seems too short until you fully realize its weight.

For tickets, call 925-295-1400 or visit www.CenterRep.org. A Number runs through February 7.


Don't Miss A Number! San Francisco Chronicle
Posted 2/04/2010

A Number: Last chance to catch James Carpenter and Gabriel Marin in Center Rep's new look at Caryl Churchill's astonishing, compact drama about a father and several cloned versions of his son. 8:15 p.m. today-Sat., 2:15 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Center Repertory Company, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. $45. (925) 943-7469. www.centerrep.org.


Send in the Clones
Sam Hurwitt
Posted 1/24/2010

Not quite an hour in length, Caryl Churchill’s two-actor one-act A Number isn’t nearly as well known as some of the British playwright’s older works such as Top Girls and Cloud 9, but it’s a marvelous, compact gem in its own right.

A father, Salter, is trying to reassure his son Bernard who’s just discovered that there are a number of clones of him running around. What’s worse, it’s been strongly implied that he’s one of the batch, not the original. Salter says the whole thing is an outrage and they should sue, but it slowly comes out that he knows more about it than he claims. Bernard is in fact a clone of his natural-born son whom he claims is dead, but no sooner does the scene end than we see Salter being confronted by the original Bernard, whom he gave up after a crap job of parenting and decided to try a do-over with a new son who started off exactly the same.

The same actor plays both Bernards in five parallel father-and-son scenes, as well as another one of the clones whom Salter has never met. The characters are named in the cast list, but the names are never uttered in the course of the dialogue, which is a dizzying dance of half-thoughts, evasions and interruptions.

First staged at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2002 with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig, A Number was first seen locally in American Conservatory Theater’s 2006 West Coast premiere starring Bill Smitrovich and Josh Charles and directed by Anna Shapiro. Artistic director Michael Butler’s Center REPertory Company staging in Walnut Creek stars James Carpenter and Gabriel Marin, the local actors who understudied that ACT production. In the meantime the two were last seen together at Thick House last fall in another play about the consequences of a medical experiment: Trevor Allen’s Frankenstein adaptation, The Creature.

While Center REP was in tech for The Syringa Tree in its usual artistic home upstairs in the Margaret Lesher Theatre at Lesher Center for the Arts, the company opened A Number Saturday night as its first additional “Off-Center” production in the intimate Knight Stage 3 downstairs.

Usually home to a variety of small theatre companies, the 133-seat house right next to the box office was transformed for this show to offer seating in the round. While some are seated on the stage level below, only the higher tiers of the usual seating area are left, giving the impression of watching gladiatorial combat or, as my wife pointed out more aptly, a medical demonstration. Butler and managing director Scott Denison have created a striking all-white set on a low football-shaped, white-carpeted platform, with white chairs, white tables, and a few unused white props such as a MacBook in the coffee table.

Flashing lights and bombastic electronic music mark the brief blackouts between scenes, in which the cast make small costume changes to mark different times and different Bernards. Only the top half of each costume changes, but in each scene Melissa Anne Davis has dressed the two men in roughly parallel palettes–if one is wearing red, say, the other would wear a different shade or red–until the scene with the clone he doesn’t know, when the two appropriately enough don’t match at all.

Having read A Number a few times and seen the ACT production (and also interviewed its cast), it was fascinating to see what an entirely different interpretation the Center REP staging gives. There are aspects of each production that I like better than the other, but the stark contrast between them just makes me appreciate Churchill’s play more.

While the ACT cast sat and spoke with understated restraint, the Center REP cast moves around a lot, an appropriate choice for viewing in the round. The first Bernard especially paces in agitation in both his scenes, his world having been turned upside down. Marin does a terrific job of delineating the different Bernards. With Charles the difference between the clones was more a subtle matter of tone, but Marin’s expression, carriage and way of speaking is very different for each. When Salter said the clones didn’t look all that alike in the previous production, it was funny because he was obviously just saying that. This time he says it because it’s true.

Whereas Smitrovich’s Salter seemed shifty, actively altering his story to try to appease the Bernards and let as little of the truth out as possible–which was also the impression I got when I first read the script–Carpenter’s version feels far more sincere. He’s not telling the Bernards what he thinks they want to hear; he’s telling them what he thinks they need to hear, and it’s not a small difference. While he’s unsure how to respond to the original Bernard, he doesn’t seem afraid of him in the least, and that opens up his words and actions to a number of different interpretations.

A brisk 50 minutes without intermission, I wouldn’t say Butler’s saying is a better production than the one Marin and Carpenter understudied, nor is it a worse one. Seeing the 2006 staging made me notice new nuances in the play, but the interpretation was still largely what ‘d taken from it when I’d read it. Seeing it this time opened up whole new ways of looking at the text for me, and made me reassess the play from quite good to a great one.


Well-acted "Number" brilliantly tense
Bethany A. Monk
Benicia Herald
Posted 1/26/2010

Even on a good day, running into a facsimile of myself doesn’t sound appealing. In fact, it’s just spooky in every way possible. You won’t be disappointed.

The pitfalls of genetic engineering, though nothing new in drama, is suddenly nascent in the world of theater. This, among several other reasons, is why Center REPertory Company’s current production, A Number, by veteran British playwright Caryl Churchill, is actually something quite new.

A fresh and eloquent script with two veteran Bay Area actors breathing life into a complicated drama make A Number a memorable viewing experience.

The play features just two characters: James Carpenter plays Salter, the father of a prototypical son and a slew of others bearing “similar resemblance.” The son, played by Gabriel Marin, confronts his father and questions him about whether he is the “real” son or one of the “copies.”

The play runs less than an hour but is packed with crisp dialogue and multi-layered themes. The actors don’t shy away from the uncomfortable moments.

In short, they are a delight to watch. Carpenter is no stranger to the stage, having played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco for the past four years. In ANumber, he is a conflicted man, tormented by the question: Is it OK to clone someone out of love? Carpenter brings a human touch, and an almost visibly broken spirit, to the role.

Marin gets to have more fun in portraying three characters — Bernard 1, Bernard 2, and Michael Black. All are Salter’s “sons.” All are “in the know” about each other, and that’s why things go awry. Marin is brilliant in his ability to play the three completely different characters, using voice and body language to conjure their disparate personalities.

All in all, A Number is a play for thinkers. Among the themes to ponder: nature vs. nurture; the nature of self and identity; greed and forgiveness; and of course, the moral implications of cloning.

The play is perfect for the Lesher’s Stage 3 theater, a theater in the rounds that provides an intimate, comfortable setting. You are literally in the living room of the two characters. Props are minimal and this give more focus to the dialogue. Kudos also to lighting designer Scott Denison and stage manager Jeff Collister for swift and interesting scene changes. It’s obvious the director, Michael Butler, is passionate about the material.

One qualm — and a minor one at that: As tense as the scenes were, I wanted a little more to bring me to the edge of my seat. Enough to feel a little scared.

A Number, though in the pricey range at $45, is worth the time for those who can afford it.


"This show is a must see, by all means."
Charles Jarrett
Posted 1/25/2010

First, the Center REPertory Company of Walnut Creek has just opened their first completely professional production in the Knight’s Stage III Theatre on the ground floor of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. Director Michael Butler brings professional actors James Carpenter and Gabriel Marin under the spotlight in Caryl Churchill’s spell-binding play, A Number, exploring relationships between a father and sons and how that relationship plays out in a futuristic fantasy, embracing the frightening ramifications of cloning gone wild.

Ms. Churchill is a British playwright, well known for her feminist and socialist views. She really hit her stride in 1979 with her play, Cloud Nine, and essentially uses the play in comic farcical format as a social arena to explore "the Victorian origins of contemporary gender definitions and sexual attitudes, recent changes ... and some implications of these changes”.

A Number is a brilliantly mysterious play about the consequences of our decisions and actions. It is at first impression both confusing and intensely intriguing It addresses father and son relationships and cloning becomes an issue in the play, though not the main focus. The issue is about authenticity, identity and personality.

Salter (James Carpenter) is a father whose values and decisions bring us to question his morals and purpose. Many years before the play takes place, Salter apparently paid a scientist to clone his son. The reason is not clear as the father’s explanations and justifications are ambiguous and inconsistent as the play progresses. What Salter did not bargain on or realize, was the scientist made numerous clones (perhaps as many as 20) and withheld that information from him.

The past is not really relevant but the consequences are. As the play opens, Salter is engaged in an intense but fractured discussion with Bernard 1 (Gabriel Marin), who has just discovered that he has a living brother. Salter is attempting to explain (and perhaps not very truthfully) how and why this situation exists, to a son who is extremely upset now that he has just discovered that he is not the being he once thought he was. This young man had thought he was a specific man’s son, that man’s only son, and the values one places in one’s life, thinking that there was something special in that “oneness” and relationship, are now terribly askew! Perhaps Bernard 1 feels as a son would feel to discover that he was in fact a bastard son, not sharing the same parentage he had always been told or had assumed he had! What a terrible awakening for a young man who is now probably in his mid twenties.

What is most disturbing to Bernard 1 is that this brother who (out of the blue) located him, and for the most part, looks and sounds just like him, and even has the same first name, but dresses in clothing suggesting a far different lifestyle. Bernard 2 (also played in pluperfect fashion by Gabriel Marin), is very aggressive and angry, with a vindictive attitude.

Bernard 1 has come to his father seeking answers about this replicate’s existence, and is told by his father, that his mother and her first son were killed in an automobile accident and that he was a first and only clone “creation” extracted from their genetic profile and replicated four years after his cloned brother’s death, through the miracle of modern medicine. Therefore, he tells Bernard 1, that he is in fact, “his son”, not in so many words, but never-the-less, the same as a “son”. In the following dialogue, Slater explains to Bernard, in halted fashion, that this other person is not identical to him, but Bernard is not satisfied or happy with the explanation!

Bernard: Because there's this person who's identical to me

SALTER: he's not

Bernard: who's not identical, who's like

SALTER: not even very

Bernard: not very like but very something terrible which is exactly the same genetic person

SALTER: not the same person

Bernard: and I don't like it!

The play only lasts for about 50 minutes with no intermission, 50 intense minutes in which you meet three similar but different “sons” all played by Marin, each with different personalities and differing reactions to the discovery of their counterparts. I wonder what your reaction will be? What hackles or emotions it will raise beneath your exterior? I found it very, very engaging and thought provoking. In fact, in writing this review, it has raised even more questions in my mind. If you enjoy mysterious and thought provoking theatre, then this show is a “Must See”, by all means.