Liberto, Meren Play Father and Son Struggling With Issues of Identity in Senior Thesis Production
By Valerie Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
Blue light basks the stage, giving eerie elegance to the simple set. The long table that stretches across center stage is silver, as are the chairs that wait at either head of the table. Three white lights hang from the catwalk, casting the table in a subdued brightness. The light dances upon the shards of glass that decorate the tabletop. The glass is shattered like a broken mirror.
The set of “A Number” evokes a distinctly futuristic mood which compliments the scientific themes of the play, while also preparing the audience for a complex emotional discourse.
Senior Katie Muldowney directs “A Number,” a one-act play written by Caryl Churchill. Though Muldowney had only three-and-a-half weeks to rehearse her show, the final production resounds with a profound understanding of self—or rather the lack of self—in the aftermath of cloning.
Churchill’s script is an active dialogue between a father and a son. But despite the familiar familial aspect of the plot, Muldowney described the dialogue as ‘fast paced’ and ‘very different.’ The script, in addition to strong direction and equally solid performances by the actors, contributes to a play that is as engaging as it is controversial.
Sophomore Mike Liberto plays the father, a man so desperate to reclaim his lost son that he turns to cloning to fix the mistakes of the past. However, when the doctors take liberties to make multiple clones, the father must face three of his numerous and different sons, all played by junior Tim Meren. While the father concerns himself with apologies and the possibility of displacing his own responsibility on the doctors, his sons struggle to find a sense of uniqueness.
In the opening scene, the father discusses the cloning with the son he claims is the original. “A number, any number, is a shock,” the father admits when his son demands to know just how many clones occupy the same world.
“You called them ‘things;’ I think you’ll find they’re people,” the son retorts.
Thus the first scene introduces the play’s most pressing questions. Are clones equal to the original? Does the same genetic makeup determine the same person? The father ignores these questions by assuring each of his sons that that particular son is, without any doubt, the original. The rest are the clones, numbers.
Yet, even the Father acknowledges that cloning, “damaged your uniqueness.”
This edgy theme, the questioning of not only genetic identity but also personality, is precisely the reason Muldowney chose “A Number” for her directing thesis.
“I would like to challenge [the audience’s] sense of identity. I’d like for them to use their imaginations with the show,” Muldowney said, when asked what she would like the audience to take away from the show.
Of the three sons that speak with the father, three different attitudes are reflected like the light that dances off the tabletop. The first son we meet is hurt by the cloning, the second son angered. The third son, however, greets the news of his cloning with acceptance. The irony, of course, is that the third son, the one who is the most comfortable with his identity, is the one who knows the least about himself.
“None of us is the original,” a son reflects at one point.
The prospect is chilling, and it is this energy that charges through the play’s dialogue and gives both father and son personality even in their struggle for identity.
“A Number” runs one hour and will be performed in Tawes Theatre this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.