When sciences possibilities prove to be personal

Forget dads awkward sex talk; A Number features the awkward youre a clone talk

Tatum Fjerstad

A father and son sit at the kitchen table, talking. The father pops a few red grapes into his mouth and the son sips water. But itís not a casual heart-to-heart.

The son asks his father questions in a conversation that turns into an elevated form of the birds and the bees ó but more like the embryo and the Petri dish.

ìA twin would be a surprise, but a number would be a shock,” the son says fingering the top of his glass.

ìAny number would be a shock,” the father replies as he munches on another grape.

The chat is one of many deceivingly simple elements in Illusion Theaterís production of ìA Number.” In the play, a son discovers there may be more than one of him, perhaps several of him. Through conversations he and his father address issues of cloning and morality, relationships and the nature vs. nurture debate.

When British playwright Caryl Churchillís ìA Number” was first performed in 2002 in London, the Evening Standard called it the ìfirst true play of the 21st century,” because it touched on tough modern issues with natural language.

ìThe play really fits our mission of performing works written by writers who work and live in this world,” said Michael Robins, producing director for Illusion Theater and director for ìA Number.”

Churchillís plays throw the audience into a time without explaining its history. She uses what seems to be plain conversation to give her characters real voices.

ìThe script is deceptively simple. It seems haphazard, but itís not at all,” said Steve Hendrickson, who plays the father. ìItís very tightly structured and hard to grasp with the fragments and uncompleted thoughts. Itís hard to figure out what youíre saying and then get it all in the right order.”

Nathan Christopher, who plays the son, said he has a strong opinion about the nature vs. nurture debate, which explores how much of human behaviors, ideas and feelings are innate or learned.

ìIím on the nurture side, and it helps point me in a direction,” Christopher said about developing his character.

Hendrickson and Christopher, both Ivey Award winners, played the father/son roles together two years ago.

Robins, Christopher and Hendrickson attended the University and studied theater during different decades.

The University pops up in the production in a different way as well. For the third time, Illusion Theater and the Universityís Center for Bioethics will join to host a discussion after the performance, this time March 9.

Jeffery Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics, will lead the talk. Through research and educational programs the Center for Bioethics encourages the public to engage in conversation about ethical issues in science.

ìThe play is an interesting portrayal of what we (medicine and science) are doing now, and where that would lead in the future,” Kahn said.

The play does not pull for one side of the issue or the other. Instead, it raises questions. Kahn said he plans to do the same.

ìWhat are the implications of creating a child this way? What makes an individual? Are the clones the same or different people?” Kahn said. ìIt makes people think about the status of those issues in the world rather than in a Petri dish.”