Review: 'A Number' at Rude Guerrilla Theater
The age-old disconnect between father and son spirals through the techno-paranoiac overview of "A Number," with penetrating results. English dramatist Caryl Churchill's enigmatic one-act about human cloning receives a spare, arresting production by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company in Santa Ana.
First staged in 2002 at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig, the title refers to the dilemma faced by Bernard (Mark Coyan), who confronts dad Salter (Vince Campbell) about his lineage at the outset. Salter's faltering responses eventually confirm that Bernard is one of multiple genetically engineered children, produced after Salter's wife and son died in an accident.
However, did they? With the advent of another Bernard (Coyan), openly hostile, tormented by memories, "A Number" begins moving in jagged circles like euglenas in a Petri dish. The ensuing complexities pull sibling rivalry, inarticulate masculinity, scientific dispassion and the deepest concerns of identity into an eerily plausible narrative.
Less ornate than the gender shake-up of "Cloud 9," less overt than the dystopian horror of "Far Away," the tense wit and elliptical prose of "A Number" is vintage Churchill. Director Scott Barber shrewdly places us in horseshoe formation around an arena dominated by a tripartite mirror, instantly addressing thematic issues. Aided by designer R.J. Romero's morbid lighting, Barber's taut approach favors the actors, who are stunning.
Coyan brings absolute investment to both Bernards and a third, chillingly detached counterpart, at times unbearably intense. Opposite this tour de force, Campbell is ideally reserved, his laconic gravity concealing profoundly guilt-tinged rage. Their tandem commitment drives "A Number," which alternates with Dennis Kelly's "Love and Money" as Rude Guerrilla's final production before the theater closes. Its last performance on March 22 will preface a benefit reading of Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children -- A Play for Gaza." You'd have to resort to test-tube tactics to create a more riveting valedictory.
--David C. Nichols
"A Number," Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. 4:30 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 22. $20. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 1 hour.
Photo: Mark Coyan (seated) and Vince Campbell. Credit: Jay Fraley.