Who are you, and what, exactly, makes you who you are? What do you do when your world changes, when you learn that you’re nothing more than a clone, a replica? These are just a few of the tough questions that Playmakers Repertory Company’s production of A Number, beautifully directed by Mike Donahue, grapples with.
The story begins with a difficult conversation between father and son. Bernard 2 (Josh Barrett) has just found out that clones have somehow been produced from his genetic material, and he has a lot of questions for his father, Salter (Ray Dooley), about just how this came to be. Through intense dialogue, the audience soon learns that Bernard 2 has it wrong; he’s not the original after all. The riveting emotional scenes between father and son are handled perfectly, with just the right touches of humor built in.
Salter goes on to meet with the original, Bernard 1 (Josh Barrett), a violent man full of anger and misdirected rage, as well as one of many clones, the delightful Michael Black (Josh Barrett). Through these meetings, bits and pieces of the truth come out to reveal most of the back story, but the audience is still left with a multitude of questions. They’re the right kind of questions though—the kind that make this play worth a second watch and that will fuel many a conversation long after the lights go up.
Dooley is convincing and even a little sympathetic as the narcissistic Salter, and Barrett handles an incredibly tough job–realistically becoming three very different people—with ease and grace. He is completely believable and so very different in each role, giving every character his due, that it’s nothing short of magical and a little bit creepy to watch. Kudos also go to both actors for tackling a script full of long, dense, often breathless dialogue with ease.
Donahue’s smart directorial choices, combined with Jan Chambers’ minimalist, sharply designed set that angles into the audience, make for an incredibly intimate production. It’s so intimate, in fact, that the audience can smell the coffee the characters drink, see every drop of sweat that falls, and most importantly, experience every emotion right along with them. The show’s short runtime, sixty minutes, is necessary to balance out the intensity of this thrilling rollercoaster of uncertainty.