A NUMBER by Caryl Churchill, directed by David Storch (CanStage). At Berkeley Upstairs (26 Berkeley). To February 11. $36-$51, some Monday pwyc and rush. 416-368-3110. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Imagine walking down the street and seeing yourself coming toward you. And then you glance back and see another version of the same person behind you. Sound weird?
It could happen to three of the four characters in Caryl Churchill 's gripping A Number , in which Salter ( Gary Reineke ) meets with three of his sons, though he's sired only one. How? Two of them are clones.
The piece is actually a series of two-person confrontations, with pointed dialogue between Salter and, alternately, Bernard One, Bernard Two and their lookalike, Michael Black (all played by Shawn Doyle ). Salter's a manipulative type, suiting his speech to the character of each of the three younger men and surreptitiously digging for information.
One of the Bernards is nervous and uncomfortable, the other aggressive and dangerous. The seemingly frail Salter tells them different stories of his and their past, apparently going along with their moods yet prompting each to reveal an inner self; when the father gets the data he wants, he prods it with scientific dispassion.
He elicits a different reaction from and becomes a different person with Michael, the happiest and most uncomplicated of the three younger guys. Maybe here Salter has met his match in a man who's content to be pretty much the same as everyone else.
Despite moments when the play is emotionally chilly, director David Storch teases out the tension in each brief two-hander, using Churchill's intentionally choppy dialogue of half-sentences and overlapping, pepper-volley lines.
He's working with a pair of fine actors who flavour each episode with different nuances. Reineke keeps us guessing whether Salter is villain or victim, while Doyle creates a tonally different character for each carbon-copy son, using a different vocal timbre and energy for the insecure Bernard, the sardonic, thuggish Bernard and the carefree Michael.
The audience watches Robin Fisher 's runway set from two sides, rather like observing the action in an operating chamber, and Kim Purtell 's expert lighting echoes the replication patterns of the play itself.
It's hard not to be intrigued by this hour-long piece, a kind of cat-and-mouse game - or make that cat-and-mice game - where the cat may finally be the one who's cornered.