Show: A Number
Company: Runcible Theatre Company
Venue: Royal George Theatre (1641 N Halsted)
Die Roll: 10
As you may guess, not all critics see a play on the same night. While many of us make any given opening night, there are enough shows opening each evening that sometimes you have to see one show over another. In such cases one might have to see a show on a different night than the other critics did. That is the only thing that I can think of for why others rated Runcible’s production of Caryl Churchill’s “A Number” so favorably, while I basically saw it in a completely different light. I’m hoping that I saw the show on an off night. There were only six people in the audience when I saw the show, and despite the fact that audience size ought not to affect the performance of a cast, it does often affect their mood and result directly in a sub-par performance. So… perhaps that explains what I saw.
On the level of first impressions, I was encouraged by the set design as I arrived. The floor and two walls are stark white, flat, and imposing, all while remaining sterile and creating an air of clinical disconnection. One metal chair inhabits the space. Once lights come up, the simple-yet-powerful set houses two men who banter back and forth about “a number”. About three minutes (which felt like at least five to ten) passed while the two talked at each other saying lines that obfuscate the point of their discussion. This is a weak start that is mostly to blame on Churchill’s script. As the playwright intentionally keeps things vague, the actors struggle to make a connection with each other, and therefore with the audience as well.
Eventually it is learned that the character played by Owen Hickle-Edwards establishes that he either one of a bunch of clones, or that he is someone who has been cloned. I can’t tell you if he is playing B1, B2, or Michael Black at this point in the show. Hickle-Edwards is credited with playing those three parts. As you can probably ascertain, he portrays two of the clones and the original man from whom the others were derived–although, not all at once. Salter (Stephen Fedo) is presumably the father of one of Hickle-Edwards’ characters. The thing is, a few more minutes into the show, I knew exactly which iteration of the son Hickle-Edwards was playing in each scene, and the story fleshed out in front of us, but by then the show had already lost me. It pushed me so far away in the beginning that coming back into its embrace was difficult at best.
Fedo’s performance was solid, though static. The character doesn’t go much of anywhere. I believe that there is growth indicated in the script. The words imply a journey of both discovery and contemplation, despite a reluctance to not change. Salter wanted a second try at raising his son, a son who he felt went wrong somewhere along the way. He doesn’t really exhibit any regret for what he’s done, nor any pride. He’s not morally good, nor morally evil. He’s on a flat path. He reveals pieces of expository information, but doesn’t accomplish much else.
Hickle-Edwards’ turn as the three different characters is mostly separated by way of vocal shifts. Strangely three men who look identical but have lived drastically different lives all move in exactly the same way, stand with the same posture, have the same mannerisms. Basically, were it not for the fact that the second iteration was angry, there would have been no way to differentiate the characters from one another.
The show’s staging didn’t help the situation. Much of the movement felt unmotivated. From time to time the chair would be relocated. Hickle-Edwards picked up the chair and looked as if he might be threatening his scene partner with it, only to have that impulse disappear as he slung the thing over his shoulder and carried it to one of the walls.
The thing is, the script started rough, but it hit its stride and the topics it discusses are interesting. Sadly, the production never did truly find its footing. It was awkward, and slightly painful to watch. Luckily, it is a brief trip through the world that play creates, and if other reviewers’ experiences are any indication it is often a better trip than the one I took. That being said, I can only review what I witnessed myself.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: At sixty minutes, this show is an hour too long.
DICE RATING: d4 – “Not Worth the Time”