Review: A NUMBER

by Lynn on April 28, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, presented by That Theatre Company, at St. Anne’s Center, 651 Dufferin St. until May 7, 2023.

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set by Steve Lucas

Sound by Heidi Chan

Lighting by Yusuke Takase

Cast: Jim Mezon

Craig Pike

This is a terrific debut of a new theatre company producing Caryl Churchill’s challenging, intriguing play about cloning, originality, free will and deception.

The Story. What do you do when you realize that you are one of a number of ‘yous’? Bernard realizes that there are ‘a number’ of men who are exactly like him because it seems he was cloned. He queries his father, Salter, who is aghast that such a thing has happened. Or is he? And did he know? Other Bernards appear. Who is the original? Are there more? A mystery.

The Production. Designer Steve Lucas has created a simple set that is both homey and otherworldly. The space is enclosed on three sides by an opaque plastic sheet. In the center is a floor of laminated tiling as you would find in a kitchen. A rectangular wood table with four chairs around the table is center. There are place mats and a salt and pepper shaker on the table. Yusuke Takase has created a dappled lighting effect in the room that gives a warm feeling.

Bernard (Craig Pike) is a young man who is a bit anxious. His father, Salter (Jim Mezon) enters with two mugs of coffee. Bernard is anxious because he has come face to face with ‘a number’ of people who are clones of him. As Bernard, Craig Pike gives a performance that conveys Bernard’s confusion, anxiety and general unease at such a situation. He is not belligerent or angry, he is confused and concerned. He has a lot of questions of his father, not the least of which are: Am I the original? How did this happen? Did someone steal bits of me when no one was looking.

As Salter, Jim Mezon plays him, in this instance, as equally confused and gruff that this could happen to them. He is totally unsure of what happened and as concerned as his innocent son. And then we meet another “Bernard” (also Craig Pike). He wears a black baseball cap, black windbreaker and keeps his head down and his emotions checked. He is watchful, calculating and dangerous. He has a different story from the first Bernard and he knows that Salter is not innocent of what happened. In this instance Jim Mezon reveals Salter’s culpability, his unsettled guilt that he was responsible for what happened and why. He’s flustered at trying to explain as Bernard remains silent. Bernard just keeps his head down and his eyes looking up under the brim of his baseball cap. This is a terrific way of challenging an ‘opponent—silence and a stare. And then there is another Bernard (Craig Pike), relaxed, unconcerned and mild-mannered.

Director Severn Thompson has guided this tricky play with confidence, sensitivity and quiet power. With simple costume changes between scene we see the various Bernards appear. The tension and emotions of Bernard one and two and that of Salter is to watch the rising angst of people caught in a terrible situation and the person who knows the truth and why. To watch Craig Pike as the various Bernards and Jim Mezon as Salter carefully modulate the rising emotions to an explosive end, is to see two actors who know their characters to their fingertips.

Caryl Churchill reveals these characters so gradually and carefully you are stunned when the various realities become clear, or what we think is clear—Churchill loves toying with her audience. The director and her gifted actors take this tricky play and make the production soar.

Comment. Playwright Caryl Churchill is one of the theatre’s leading playwrights. Her plays are challenging, evocative, brilliantly conceived and ahead of their time. A Number was written in 2004 when Churchill was 68. She is now 84 and continues to confound and dazzle at the same time. This is the first production of That Theatre Company. In no uncertain terms they are announcing that they are here, fearless and ready to challenge us. Welcome.

That Theatre Company presents:

Plays until May 7, 2023.

Running time: 60 minutes (no intermission)

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