Monday, November 28, 2011

Churchill's A Number: Aspects of Cloning

The prospect of human cloning is still provocative for its social implications. What is gained from encountering the issue in the form of a play? How does the play work to engage us in thinking through the issue?

Churchill's A Number was definitely not one of my favorites this semester. I did not like the writing style (the lack of punctuation and capitalization at times, the way the lines lead into each other, no stage directions, no set description, no other information at all) and found it a little confusing. Even though the script says which clone the father is talking to, it gets confusing after a while. But it still manages to address the issue of cloning.

Sam Shepard and Dallas Roberts in A Number at New York Theatre Workshop.*
The play makes the audience think several issues regarding cloning. For instance, who would have someone cloned and why? The play does not specifically answer why there was cloning; the answer depended on who Salter was talking to. Salter blames the hospital for stealing DNA but it is later revealed that he chose to have the cloning done. However, the scientist who did the cloning created more than Salter ever imagined and he wants to sue the scientist. It is revealed that the original son was sent away, not killed, and the mother committed suicide, and did not die in a car accident with the original son. So, the audience never truly learns why Salter decided to have clones made.
Roberts and Shepard.*
Another issue that the play brings up is the identity crisis the original and clones would have upon finding out the others exist. When the play begins, Salter is talking to one of the clones who has just discovered that there are others. He is trying to figure out his identity- is he the original? How should he handle the fact that there are others of him. The original Bernard is very upset after learning about the clones and he, too, wonders about his identity and who he is. At the beginning of Act 5, the audience learns that the original Bernard shot the only clone of him that we see in the play (I think, I'll be honest, I don't quite understand who Michael Black is. Is he the original son that was sent away? Is he a clone that has successfully created his own identity? I just don't know who he is exactly, other than a character played by the actor who is everyone but Salter, so maybe the audience sees two clones. I don't know). It is in this act that the audience sees Salter trying to find out personal information about Micheal and learns that he has his own identity and is living a happy and successful life. In fact, Michael finds it a "delightful" piece of information about himself.

The Clockwork Theatre presents A Number starring Sean Marrinan (Salter) and Jay  Rohloff (everyone else).*
A Number makes the audience think about the social issue by never actually addressing the issue or giving solid information about it. The audience does not learn why Salter turned to cloning. It does not explore the idea of cloning. It doesn't even look very far into the idea of identity, or lack thereof, when cloning occurs. It doesn't even allow the characters to put their ideas into a full sentence. The audience is left hanging, meaning they have to conclude with their own thoughts, or at least explore where the play might be going or trying to say (or not say), kind of like with fanfiction. 

National Asian American Theatre Company's production of A Number with Salter played by  James Saito and the others by Joel de la Fuente.*

While there seem to be an abundance of what the play does not do, it is important to note what it does do. Churchill does not address or explore the traditional aspects of cloning, such moral and ethical implications of cloning. She explores how a person might feel upon discovering that there are approximately twenty more versions of you running around. The way the play is performed is also up to the director. There is no indication of how the lines should be read or how the characters feel. The actor and director are free to put emphasis on whatever they deem important to the play. Salter could be full of regret, scornful, full of denial, or he could be nonchalant about the whole thing. The meaning and focus is open for interpretation. 

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