Remember the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, and the controversy that ensued? That was the historical context in 2002 when Caryl Churchill wrote A Number, about Salter (John Hutton) and his biological son Bernard (Timothy McCracken), and cloning.
Given Churchill's penchant for postmodern technique, including surrealism and anomalistic sequencing, the subject is a natural for her. For example, in the first scene we assume to be observing a conversation between Salter and his biological son, followed by a second scene in which we assume to be observing them at a later date, but find that neither of our assumptions are entirely correct.
|(L to R) John Hutton|
and Timothy McCracken
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Considering that artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood were already part of the mix when cloning was introduced, Churchill has the leeway to dial in the more visceral questions concerning the emotional, psychological, and spiritual life of the original and the copies, which she does with a flourish (in only one hour!), using what is left unspoken in ways that reference Pinter and Mamet.
Hutton and McCracken thrive in this halting world, where each thought conjures an alternative universe of possibilities, which they reveal in sublime ways. Directed by Christy Montour-Larson, it's as if the encounters between Salter and his biological and laboratory progeny—which seem to take place inside a piece of DNA's famous double-helix as conceived by Brian Mulgrave—are as unpredictable as the genetic and environmental influences that stamp each them.
|John Hutton (standing center) as Salter|
and Timothy McCracken (perifery) as Bernard and Michael
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In many ways, Hutton and McCracken represent disparate poles of the psyche, an ego desperately seeking continuation of itself through genetic replication versus a set of egos unsure of their uniqueness. It's a marvelous conceit that Churchill wastes no time in exploring, without falling back on any philosophic or social rationalizations.
Most interestingly, Churchill's take on the subject is perfectly consistent with Eastern spiritual sciences, such as Buddhism, where Mind, the observer, is universal, and all bodies, however similar, are unique experiential vehicles. Of course, science has arrived at the same conclusion: the infinite differentiation of light stems from the same singular event, however resistant we may be to admit it.
Curious Theatre Company's A Number runs through June 17th at the Acoma Center. 303-623-0524 or curioustheatre.org.