Review: A Number by Caryl Churchill

Great Canadian Theatre Company presents
“A Number” by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Charles McFarlandTodd Duckworth
Barry MacGregorSet & Costume Designer Brian Smith
Lighting Designer Guillaume Houët
Stage Manager Kevin Waghorn
Apprentice Stage Manager Erin Finn
Assistant Director Nick Gilmore
Head Electrician Jon Alexander
Head of Audio Jon Carter
Head of Wardrobe & Props Louise Hayden
Scenic Painter Stephanie DahmerCrew

Linda Dufresne, Rick Gravel, Stu Lacelle, Shane Learmouth, Keith Moulton

Hair Hisham at Beautyworx

Thank you Julian Armour (Cello) Nick “the videographer” Gilmour

Production viewed: 8 pm, February 8, 2007
Running time: 52 minutes

I am becoming confirmed in my belief that we will not see a full-length play again. Were there not some redeeming qualities evidenced by this production, I would have been reduced to evoking memories of the excellent cuisine at Trattoria Italia across the street, where our party of four dined before attending the evening’s brief episode of theatrical entertainmment, which thrust us onto the street rather abruptly less than an hour after it started, just as things were getting interesting.

The music and video effects were striking and extremely effective. The video, projected onto two overhead screens, became progressively more detailed and moved from stills to movement as the play developed, and combined with the music, created some excellent transitions — bravo, Julian and Nick.

Todd Duckworth, a local actor of considerable talents, seemed entirely at ease on the sparse elevated stage. He portayed three clones: the first a somewhat uncertain confounded chappie who seemed desperately concerned about whether he was the original son or a clone; the second a swaggering abrasive leather-jacketed goon who seemed quite capable of hooliganism and murder; the third, a shallow affable milquetoast who finally and without really trying, gets a rise out of his biological father.

Barry MacGregor, a veteran of Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival and other theatres including New York, seemed for much of the play to be ill at lease on the sparse stage, wondering how to make a place happen on the stage. It’s not as if he isn’t used to working on the relatively empty Shakespearian stage, but I don’t think he was having a good night. It was not until the fifth and final bombastic scene that he seemed at ease. It was here that his character ignited in the frustration of trying to get some guts out of the absolutely empty son whom his character had just met. It was here that the play got interesting, just before it ended.

This is not the first time this season that we have seen a one act play that cried out for a second act. I know what that is about, having taken the script of a half-hour one act play through development to a two-hour, two act play. It is not an easy transition, but it is in staging the one act play that you find the ingredients for the full-length production. It was a fascinating process. This play, “A Number” really cries out for a second act: we want to see some more clones. How did they develop? What did “nurture” do to them? What does this tell us about who we uncloned beings are? I thnk a full-length treatmentof this subject would require a more complex, unfocused arc, but it could be fascinating, and make an effective statement about the human condition.

There was a while during the early going when I was wondering why Duckworth and MacGregor were affecting English accents; there seemed no need. But then came the third clone. I believe a Canadian accent would have made no sense: this guy was a stock steroetypical thick upper middle-class Brit who needed the accent as a shtick prop in his life, and Duckworth brought him hilariously to life. He gave MacGregor the perfect foil for his hilarious frustration at his lack of success at trying to find a human being inside. After forty minutes or so of watching a fairly one-toned abrasive series of conversations between father and clones, there was finally something to make one perk up and take part in the birth of a play that was happening onstage. And then we were sadistically cut off by the curtain call — which, by the way, I included in the fifty-two minutes.

I have to take issue with the sparse set. The only property on the stage was a single geometric vinyl clad chair. I could see no reason for this situation: a comfy living room with clutter would have made for some character development for the father, a base to work from. As it was, with only one place to sit, either or both characters were reduced to standing, which in turn gave the play a confrontational aspect that it suffered from. In effect, the characters were forced to argue. I detected numerous places where a more comfortable setting would have made the place and the interaction between the characters more human; as it was, there was little to sympathise with, just an argumentative, unnuanced, loud proceeding between father and clone.

I must once again protest this strong trend towards brief plays. This is not the Fringe; this is professional theatre, where we are travelling an hour and a half to, and an hour and a half from the theatre, and we are paying good money for considered substance. I am not saying length makes art, but it doesn’t hurt.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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