Writers Theatre strips down A Number to its absorbing essentials | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Writers Theatre strips down A Number to its absorbing essentials 

Robin Witt's production takes a somber tone, downplaying the comic turns.

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Michael Brosilow

Logging in at a little more than an hour, Writers Theatre's production of Caryl Churchill's 2002 two-hander is a brief and thought-provoking meditation on human character and identity. Set in the near future, at a time when the cloning of human beings is medically possible though not yet socially accepted, the play consists of a series of conversations between a father and son, all concerned with the son's discovery that he is just one of "a number" of clones. To reveal more would spoil this taut, twisty, tightly written tale. The beauty of the play is how much Churchill is able to pack into a mere 65 minutes.

Robin Witt's lean and somber production emphasizes everything that is sleek in Churchill's stripped-down script. Her two actors, William Brown and Nate Burger, deliver perfectly crafted performances, sometimes underplaying their delivery to make the audience lean closer to the action. Brown's performance is especially nuanced: he can do a lot with the smallest gesture or the slightest shift in the tone of his voice, qualities you need in a play as packed with laconic lines as this one.

The script is dry, and even witty at times, though the director and her actors downplay the comic turns. That is just as well, because the somber audience who saw the show with me was in no mood for laughter. No loss. The play is just as absorbing when it's played straight.

Courtney O'Neill's set—consisting of little more than a few chairs, a table, and a lamp in a simple room with bland walls—is almost as sparse as Churchill's dialogue.   v

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