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The Clockwork Theatre Presents "A Number", at The Beckett Theatre
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The Clockwork Theatre Presents "A Number", at The Beckett Theatre

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The Clockwork Theatre Presents:

A Number

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Beverly Brumm
At the
Beckett Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

Sean Marrinan as Salter
Jay Rohloff as Bernard I, Bernard II, Michael Black

Scenic Design: Larry Laslo
Lighting Design: Benjamin C. Tevelow
Costume Design: Jocelyn Melechinsky
Sound Design: Jason Sebastian
Casting: Todd Thaler Casting
Asst. Director: Doug Nyman
Technical Director: Vincent Vigilante
Production Stage Manager: Stephanie Call
Assoc. Technical Director: Mike Zimmerman
Assoc. Lighting Designer: Taryn Kennedy
Master Electrician: Josh Windhausen
Scenic Painters: Cathy Mancuso, Olga Mill
Production Photography: David Cunningham
Media: Harrison Harvey, Exec. Dir., Clockwork Theatre

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 12, 2008

As a former early childhood educator, I have always found nature vs. nurture a fascinating concept, whether a child’s personality, intelligence, and behavior are more influenced by DNA, or more influenced by early family and school experiences. I have always been of the notion that both count equally. Caryl Churchill’s one-act play, A Number, explores the nature vs. nurture theory in an illustrative and unique manner. The British playwright, Ms. Churchill, has fashioned a science-fiction plot, whereby a father (presumably in London, as the actors assume educated British and Cockney accents) has chosen to clone one more son, from his original son, so as to start over, to perfect the “nurture” side of the formative years. Sean Marrinan plays Salter, the seemingly well-to-do father, who sits in his beige-gray, contemporary living room with stained glass window and receives his sons, three of them now, as the doctor had cloned not one but perhaps 20, as some new science experiment, or perhaps new science crime.

Jay Rohloff plays all three sons, the first being son #2 (age 30), a well-mannered, inquisitive son, who, offstage, has the bad luck to be followed by son #1 (age 35), a combustible, angry son, who learns of the cloning. Son #3 (age 30) appears late in the 70 minute play, and this son lacks depth, emotion, curiosity. He wears glasses, is educated, and grew up not knowing Salter at all, which perhaps was his good luck. In fact, luck seems to play a third role to nature-nurture, as unexpected circumstances affect personality and intelligence, in environmental influences. Mr. Rohloff pulls off the impossible. After leaving the play, I kept remembering four characters, as each soon had his own accent, his own mannerisms, his own way of dressing, such as pulled down hood, smart sweater, or jacket and tie. Each of the first two sons wanted to know more about his mother, and that maternal scenario kept changing, from illness to madness.

Sean Marrinan masters his emotionally complex role, as he relates to three sons, played by one actor, in three different ways. There are three “relationships”, Salter and Bernard, #1 and #2, plus Salter and Michael Black, and, clearly, left alone with Michael Black (son #3), the mildest and most innocuous personality of all, Salter remains conflicted and wanting of turmoil, of tension, and, perhaps, a return of time. One of the more ingenious effects is the changing of scenes, as each new son is about to appear (Salter remains in his living room). The stained glass window turns into a gynecological sonogram, at each scene, showing the cloning process, I would assume. I found that invention to be the most confusing, and perhaps a voice-over, like that of the doctor, might have clarified the scientific aspects of the media device. The fate of the three sons' mother was never quite resolved, nor was the child-neglect innuendo, the early treatment of the original, psychologically disturbed Bernard, the one who unwittingly was cloned. Nor was it clear how the cloning occurred, since the first Bernard was obviously still alive at the age of four. The Clockwork Theatre has, as its mission, a commitment to explore relationships, in a very human way, in “plays of significance”. Jay Rohloff, its Artistic Director, wrote to me after the play, and his note is below:

Jay Rohloff, Artistic Director, The Clockwork Theatre, writes:

Playing three different roles in the span of an hour is indeed a bit, of a challenge, but we approached it in the same way one would approach a conventional role. Each has to be a complete person with wants and needs, and the differences can be highlighted with dialect, physicality, terrific costume design (Jocelyn Melechinsky) and what this character does to get what he wants. The exciting part, and the real pleasure, is in exploring and developing the three different relationships with my scene partner, Sean Marrinan. It is the differences in the dynamics of these relationships that will truly tell Salter's story and, in the end, the main function of my three roles is to support his character and help him to make his journey as full as the text requires.

Sean Marrinan and Jay Rohloff
in Caryl Churchill's A Number
Courtesy of David Morris Cunningham

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at