Review: A Number

by Lynn on September 16, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie Street, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Dahlia Katz

Set, props, costumes by Cat Haywood

Lighting by Brandon Goncalves

Sound by Dahlia Katz

Cast: M. John Kennedy

Nora McLellan

A bold production of Caryl Churchill’s challenging play that would be even bolder without the intermission.

The Story. We are in England, in Salter’s home. He is a widower and he’s listening to his agitated son Bernard and trying to cope with his news: that Bernard found out he’s a clone, actually a number of them. Incredulous. Salter suggests they sue. How did this happen? Bernard certainly wants to know and so does Salter. Then Salter is visited by another clone of his son, (Bernard B2) and the story gets murky. This being Caryl Churchill it’s also gripping.

The Production. Cat Haywood has designed a tasteful, neat set with picture frames on the wall, upstage is a credenza with a kettle and two mugs on it, centre stage is a table and two chairs, stage right is an easy chair with a cushion on it, and stage left is a washbasin full of water. At the extreme stage left are hooks on a wall with shirts etc.

Salter (Nora McLellan—you read that right) sits at the table wearing a shirt and tie, neat slacks and tan shoes. He faces his son Bernard (B1) (M. John Kennedy) who wears a shirt, pants and shoes. His hair is neatly combed with a part on the left side.

McLellan plays Salter as a man. She wears a wig that is short and full and looks like a man. McLellan is tight lipped, contained and reveals a touch of anger at what seems to have happened—that Salter’s son somehow was cloned perhaps at birth, in the hospital. Salter’s body language is also contained and there is no effort to swagger or do any of that clichéd movement suggesting a man. Salter is Bernard’s father and we take on faith and trust that the person playing him is playing him as a man. Salter is as shocked as Bernard 1 is at such a turn of events. Salter never raises his voice—perhaps the business of being a proper British man comes into play, although not a posh one with a plumy accent. To suggest they sue reveals Salter as a father who wants justice. Salter’s behaviour with Bernard (B2) suggests something else. And in true Caryl Churchill fashion, she reveals information slowly and it packs a punch.

M. John Kennedy as Bernard (B1) is unsettled and bewildered by his learning he’s a clone. He’s not angry. Rather he seems flustered. He doesn’t know how it happened. He’s not sure how he really feels about it. It has put him in a world of true confusion.

In a neat bit of theatre at the end of the scene we see Bernard (B1) take off the shirt and put it on a hook then go over to the bowl of water and wash his face and slick back his hair and then mess it up. The part in his hair is gone and he now becomes Bernard (B2). This man is angry, combative, confident and dangerous. The body language is of a person ready for anything.

The movement in this play is so confined as to grip the audience. Director Dahlia Katz does have Salter move occasionally by walking around the easy chair to break up the scene a bit. Perhaps that is a bit obvious since there is no reason for Salter to walk around the chair but that’s a quibble.

Of concern is that they have put an intermission in this short play which is a mistake. Churchill didn’t write it with an intermission and that should have been respected. I have over-heard someone say that this gives the audience a break because it does get pretty intense. Nonsense! This is Caryl Churchill for heaven sake! It’s supposed to be intense. Is the intermission there to sell drinks? Nonsense! It’s a really small theatre—you can’t make that much money on a can of pop. Or I’ve heard the seats are meant for children and perhaps the adults might find it uncomfortable so a break is in order. Baloney! The seats are padded. We don’t go to see this kind of production for comfort but to feel uncomfortable.

This is what happens when you put in a break where there shouldn’t be one: the momentum of the play is interrupted; getting the audience ‘back’ in the rhythm of the play after the intermission takes time the production can’t afford. Please trust your audience to cope. Take out the damned intermission!

Comment. This is billed as: “Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project. “ Solar Stage is a company that presents theatre for young audiences. Lunar Stage is their first offering for adult audiences. I love their chutzpah not only for doing a play by the always challenging Caryl Churchill, but also for casting Nora McLellan to play Salter, the father.

It’s a fine production. It will be just gripping when you cut the intermission. Thank you.

Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project:

Opened: Sept. 14, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 85 minutes approx. (but should be 70 minutes without the intermission).

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