Directed by Dale McFadden
Through Jan. 29
Bill Simmons (left) and Jack O'Hara in Phoneix's 'A Number'
It may be gauche to say this about a work by Caryl Churchill, but A Number should have been tossed back for a re-write before being set loose on the theater world.
The play, now at the Phoenix Theatre, is convoluted and confusing. The basic premise - what happens if you lose a child and replace it with a clone - is an interesting one, but the layout of the show, which doles out plotline in a laborious and stuttering manner, kills the concept.
WARNING: BASIC PLOTLINE SPOILER AHEAD. I am going to give you those pieces of plotline puzzle in the hopes that, if you go see the show, you will be able to concentrate on the message more than who's who. Set in Britain, Salter, played by Jack O'Hara, gives up his 4-year-old son because, after the death of his wife, he is incapable of being a decent father. Feeling a need to start fresh, he has his son cloned. However, unbeknownst to him, the hospital makes multiple copies of his son. The story picks up many years later when his new son, Clone No. 1, played by Bill Simmons, finds out there are more of him out there. END SPOILER.
Because of the way the story of father and son is presented, the issues of the play - nature vs. nurture (with nature being the choice of the playwright) and consequences of cloning - are hard to grapple with because once the groundwork is established, the play ends. Although O'Hara and, especially, Simmons (who plays Clone No. 1, the original son and Clone No. 2, in that order) present beautiful performances, the truncated show ends just about the time it gets started. Once things start actually happening and consequences start rolling - and you have the cast down - the show ends, clocking in at just over an hour.
Armed with the plotline spoiler, you could use the show as a jumping off point for discussion, which is what the Phoenix has done with the implementation of post-show discussions: Jan. 15 with Dr. John Green (expert in Caryl Churchill); Jan. 22 with Dale McFadden, Jack O'Hara and Bill Simmons (director and cast of production); and Jan. 29 with Dr. Eric Meslin (medical ethicist).
A Number, directed by Dale McFadden, continues through Jan. 29. Tickets are $25; $15 for those 24 and under. Call the Phoenix, 749 N. Park Ave., at 317-635-PLAY, www.phoenixtheatre.org.