On Wednesday night, PlayMakers Repertory Company kicked off its ambitious and appealing 2011-12 season with a riveting rendition of A Number, English dramatist and screenwriter Caryl Churchill’s almost unbearably intense two-actor, four-character 2002 kitchen-sink drama, with a whiplash-inducing sci-fi twist involving human cloning on the sneak.
Ingeniously staged by PRC guest director Mike Donahue in the closet-sized confines of Salter’s dingy kitchen, this five-scene drama consists of a series of tense father-and-son reunions in which Salter (played with quiet desperation by UNC professor of dramatic art and PlayMakers mainstay Ray Dooley) answers a series of increasingly uncomfortable questions about the parentage of his three sons — the well-groomed, well-adjusted, but persistent Bernard 2; the scruffy, maladjusted, and menacing Bernard 1; and the easygoing and only mildly curious Michael Black, whom Salter did not raise — all limned with vivid strokes by New York actor Josh Barrett.
Ray Dooley, who is arguably the Triangle’s finest actor, earns major kudos for this passionate performance in which Salter’s surface calm becomes harder and harder to maintain. Scenic and costume designer Jan Chambers not only crafts a brilliant box in which these emotionally charged kitchen-table conversations become more and more claustrophobic, but she dresses the cast in outfits that accentuate their personality traits, their economic situations, and even their levels of emotional distress.
Thus, Ray Dooley becomes more and more disheveled as pointed questions from Bernard 1 and 2 force him to confess — at least in part — his lies and evasions about their origins. Moreover, Chambers has Josh Barrett switch footwear when he smoothly segues from character to character, so he can literally walk in their shoes.
The contributions of lighting designer Burke Brown and sound designer Ryan J. Gastelum also help make PlayMakers Repertory Company’s second-stage production of A Number a must-see drama. Brown’s lighting design suggests different times of day, even seasons, for the show’s five scenes; and Gastelum’s sound design facilitates transition from scene to scene, which takes place on a succession of increasingly dark days for Salter.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 9th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2011/09/09/good-and-evil-siblingsand-both-find-a-father-to-match-prc2s-brilliant-a-number; and Sept. 7th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel review by Nick Andersen: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/09/a_number_a_searing_opening_to_prc2 and Aug. 19th and Sept. 6th previews by Grace Tatter: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/08/playmakers_stages_prc2_series and http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/09/anumber_pre_0907. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 5th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/09/caryl-churchill’s-a-number-a-provocative-drama-with-a-sci-fi-twist-is-first-up-for-playmakers-rep/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents A NUMBER at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 and 10 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $10-$35 ($10 UNC Student Rush Tickets, available one hour before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.aspx.
NOTE 1: There will be a post-play discussion after each performance with the cast, creative team, and experts on the issues that the play raises.
NOTE 2: There will be wheelchair-accessible seating and assisted-listening devices available at performances. (For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/specialneeds.aspx.)
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Number (Wikipedia) and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=3879 (Internet Off-Broadway Database),
The 2008 TV Movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1010035/ (Internet Movie Database).
Playwright Caryl Churchill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caryl_Churchill (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=4702 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1135663/ (Internet Movie Database).
Director Mike Donahue: http://www.mikemdonahue.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.