As genetic modification becomes an increasingly great topic of moral controversy, Caryl Churchill’s A Number delves into and challenges the ethics of cloning and the fragility of identity.
Performed this past weekend in Robsham Theater, the show was directed by Sam Szemerenyi, MCAS ‘20, and it is, first and foremost, intensely intimate in size, set, and story. With a cast consisting of only two members, Michael Mazzone, MCAS ‘19, as Salter, and Marnie Russell, MCAS ‘20, as Bernard 1, Bernard 2, and Michael, the show sets its own pace while the audience is forced to keep up.
Presented by the Boston College Dramatics Society, A Number follows the story of a father, Salter, who, after the loss of his son, Bernard, and wife, calls on scientists to create a clone of his son, believing his child was the most perfect he could ever create. This plan inevitably backfires once he finds that the scientists have produced not one, but “a number” of copies of his child. Throughout the play, the father is continuously confronted by the various clones of the son he once had, as they journey through the truths of their identities, mental health, addiction, family, and overall guilt.
The show opens with Salter speaking to his son in his home, the only set in the entirety of the performance. But the “son” quickly realizes that he is, in fact, one of the clones. The son begins to question his identity as he no longer knows who he is, or if he really is anyone at all. Salter proceeds by admitting multiple secrets he had kept hidden in the past, including his alcoholism, the true details of his wife's death, and his unending guilt.
A Number is not simply a sci-fi story about cloning. It encourages open conversation about identity in the face of adversity, as well as embracing individuality in a society where the importance of appearance is overwhelmingly emphasized. It examines issues like alcoholism, suicide, and depression without glorifying or romanticizing them, and shows the severe consequences that can result when they are not addressed and treated properly. The play calls upon the audience to engage in this conversation; if they are willing to perceive the deeper meaning, they are likely to leave the show with new ideas about what factors contribute to who you are.
Discussing complex issues such as those featured in this production is incredibly important in college settings. BC’s production of A Number offered a safe environment for audience members to reflect, ponder their own identity, and consider better ways to take care of themselves.