One of A Number of scenes from the Odyssey Theatre.
One is the loneliest number
By Ed Rampell
When was the last time you saw science fiction presented by a live theatre company? Aside from theatrical productions based on works by Ray Bradbury, I never saw sci-fi produced onstage. Usually, this distinctive genre requires onscreen high tech special effects or a fiction reader’s free ranging imagination.
British playwright Caryl Churchill, noted for socially conscious plays such as the 1987 stock market satire called Serious Money, has tried her adept hand at the futuristic genre usually associated with writers such as H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and, of course, Bradbury. A Number centers around one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our time: cloning.
A Number is a creepy and chilling drama. The interactions between fathers and sons can be complex enough, but in A Number the parent-child relationship is complicated by cloning. The proverbial curtain rises as an adult son, Bernard (deftly portrayed by the appropriately named Steve Cell, who seems to commit a sort of cellular reproduction in multiple parts), confronts his father, Salter (John Heard). Bernard demands to know the deep dark truth: is he the result of cloning? And are there other Bernard look-alikes out there in clone-land? As Bernard pursues the answer – like Mary Shelley’s hubristic Dr. Frankenstein found out long ago – all hell breaks loose when the natural order of things is disrupted by manmade intervention.
The two-man (or, depending on your point of view, five man) one-act play is skillfully directed by Bart DeLorenzo. Cell excels as, shall we say, Bernard squared. Cell’s stage credits include a Broadway production of Death of a Salesman and he has appeared on the 24 TV series. Heard’s IMDB-busting credits include a recurring role on HBO’s The Sopranos series and in movies such as Home Alone. In 2007’s The Great Debaters Heard played a redneck Southern sheriff -- a great piece of ironic casting, as he is actually one of Hollywood’s most progressive actors, who makes a more true to form compelling antiwar speech in 2008’s The Lucky Ones. In A Number, Heard returns to the stage, where he began, winning Obie Awards for off-Broadway productions such as Othello in the 1970s. Heard’s nuanced depiction of Salter, as he slowly comes to grips with science running off the rails, shows that this is one actor who hasn’t “gone Hollywood” and can still trod the boards.
This is a gripping piece of theater, as Bernard and Salter discover that they might not be – well – home alone.
A Number plays through June 21 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. (near Olympic). . For more info: 310/477-2055; www.odysseytheatre.com.