In this stark and startling drama, a son confronts his emotionally distant father, learning a horrifying truth about his past. As anger and abandonment issues emerge, a mystery is exposed, revealing a disturbing incident involving a number of “others.” A Number is an illuminating and provocative work by internationally acclaimed playwright Caryl Churchill in which she examines individuality and the theory of nature versus nurture.
Click here to read the program online.
“A tremendous play…moving, thought-provoking and dramatically thrilling.”
PENNEY PINETTE (Costume Designer) has designed Ideation, The Gift Horse, Golda’s Balcony, and A Number at New Rep. She is a Boston-based designer focusing in dance and theatre. In addition to designing for the stage she also teaches fashion design and construction at Mount Ida College as well as costume production at Boston University where she has recently received her MFA. Some of her work has been with local puppeteer Bonnie Duncan of They Gotta Be Secret Agents, and the local dance community including Prometheus Dance, Contrapose Dance, and Fort Point Theater Productions. This year will be her fifth year designing costumes for the Boston Conservatory dance department.
*member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
**member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Inc.
***member of United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829
Sheldon Krimsky is professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning in the School of Arts & Sciences and Adjunct Professor in Public Health and Family Medicine in the School of Medicine at Tufts University. He received his bachelors and masters degrees in physics from Brooklyn College, CUNY and Purdue University respectively, and a masters and doctorate in philosophy at Boston University. Professor Krimsky’s research has focused on the linkages between science/technology, ethics/values and public policy. Professor Krimsky served on the National Institutes of Health’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee from 1978-1981. He was a consultant to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research and to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. He participated on a special study panel for the American Civil Liberties Union that formulated a policy on civil liberties and scientific research. Professor Krimsky was chairperson of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for the American Association for the Advancement of Science for 1988-1992. He held the Carol Zicklin Chair in Philosophy at the Honor’s Academy in Brooklyn College, 2012-2014. Currently he serves on the Board of Directors for the Council for Responsible Genetics and as a Fellow of the Hastings Center on Bioethics.
|Tuesday, September 22|
|“Meet and Greet” the cast, designers, crew and New Rep Staff, then hear a read-through or sing-through of the play.|
|Wednesday, October 7 at 6:30pm|
|Observe 30 minutes of the company’s first day rehearsing on the Charles Mosesian Theater stage, followed by a conversation with New Rep artistic staff.|
Inside the Play
|Wednesday, October 21 at 6:30pm|
|Learn more about the elements that bring the play off the page and to life on stage.|
|Bioethics: The Future of Medicine and Human Rights||Sunday, October 11 following the 4pm matinee|
|Theatre artists, area academics, and experts explore and discuss ideas related to the play and how they impact our world.|
Jonathan Garlick, DDS, PhD
New Rep Board Member
Professor and Director, Division of Cancer Biology and Tissue Engineering, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
Michael A. Grodin, MD
Professor of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health
Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine
William Lensch, PhD
Executive Director, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University
Principal Faculty Member and Faculty Director of Education, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
Notes by Eden Ohayon, edited by Ruth Spack and Adrienne Boris
In A Number, Caryl Churchill contemplates the ramifications of cloning through the story of a father and his three sons, two of whom are clones of the original. By placing the action of the play in a futuristic time that still reminds us of our own, Churchill investigates our contemporary relationship to bioethics and warns against the potential consequences of advances in biotechnology.
From the time they began telling stories, storytellers have set their tales in far-off lands and imaginary worlds. Homer took us to distant shores where we encountered Cyclopes, witches, and cannibals as we followed Odysseus on his journey home. Dante dragged us through the ninth circle of hell. Shakespeare, in The Tempest, transported us to a magical island inhabited by sorcerers and spirits. But it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century, when H.G. Wells published his seminal work The Time Machine (1895), that writers took us to the future.
New discoveries and inventions have often bred unprecedented fear, and much futuristic literature has been written in response to rapid and often inconceivable advances in science and technology. In ancient times, it was oracles and prophets who delivered warnings about the future. In modern times, it is often writers who offer the deepest insight into what the future might hold for humankind.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
Aldous Huxley’s imagined society in Brave New World is run by a benevolent dictatorship, the World State, which promotes a chemically engineered breeding system. In lieu of natural reproduction and live birth, human embryos are raised in hatcheries. Some fetuses are allowed to develop relatively normally, while others are injected with intelligence-stunting chemicals that predetermine their low station in life. Those endowed with higher levels of intelligence are elevated on the social and economic ladder, while those in the lower castes perform menial labor. Literature and art are eliminated and critical thinking is discouraged. Any individual initiative or action is crushed. No romantic relationships exist, sex is purely recreational, and everyone is encouraged to consume soma, a hallucinogenic drug that promotes feelings of elation and thus keeps the populace distracted and content.
The character of John, whom many in the novel refer to as “the Savage,” stands in stark contrast to the rest of the characters in Huxley’s universe. John grew up on a “savage reservation” outside the World State and has read the collected works of Shakespeare. In one of the final scenes of the novel, Huxley pits John against Mustapha Mond, the World Controller, to champion the virtues of the old ways. John fights for all of the things that define the human experience, even though they hold the potential to cause unhappiness: “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Almost three decades later, in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley observed that society was moving toward the one he’d imagined more quickly than he’d anticipated. Men and women were losing their individual freedom in many places worldwide. Even for those living in democracies, Huxley said, the “desire for freedom is on the wane.”
Anthem, Ayn Rand (1938)
In her novella, Anthem, Ayn Rand paints a bleak picture of the future through the tale of two lovers, Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000. Rand sets the story in an unspecified time, presumably during another of humanity’s dark ages. The narrative is told from the perspective of Equality 7-2521, who uses first-person plural pronouns because there are no words in this society to refer only to oneself. All individuality has been purged. Children are raised in collective homes away from their parents. Strict rules govern the behavior of the citizens—a rigid curfew is enforced and no one is even permitted to write. Although everyone is expected to be referred to not by name but by number, the two lovers create covert, illegal names for one another: The Golden One and The Unconquered.
Following persecution by the World Council of Scholars, The Unconquered escapes into the Uncharted Forest, with The Golden One not far behind. Together, they come upon a house from the “Unmentionable Times” (presumably our present-day), wherein they begin to read books. They finally discover the language to express their individual love for one another, the sacred word “I.”
1984, George Orwell (1949)
In George Orwell’s most famous work, 1984, the group in power—the Party—relies heavily on human psychology to wield control over the populace. The citizens are expected to pay homage each day to Big Brother, the benevolent world leader whose image is plastered on the walls of every room in every building. Citizens are carefully monitored through telescreens that track their every move. To thwart critical thinking and rebellion, the government initiated an overhaul of the English language, converting it to Newspeak, a language with limited vocabulary and means of expression. If there are no words for antithetical sentiments, the Party reasons, they will not be expressed.
When the main character, Winston, rebels against the powers that be in order to be with his true love, Julia, he is imprisoned and tortured for months on end, until he finally breaks. Threatened with being eaten alive by rats, his greatest fear, he begs for mercy, wishes his fate would befall Julia instead, and declares his love for Big Brother. Because he is willing to sacrifice another person to save himself, to inflict unspeakable cruelty on the person he supposedly loves most, he is welcomed back into the Party. Because Orwell’s bleak projection of the future draws on what makes us human—our psychological tendency toward self-preservation—it is all the more disturbing.
A Number, Caryl Churchill (2002)
Caryl Churchill is a political playwright whose work is borne out of the challenges of its time but also resonates with audiences across cultures far past its original production date. A Number is not the first of Churchill’s plays to be set in a dystopian landscape. Far Away (2000), takes place in a futuristic society in order to indict the contemporary military agenda and the removed attitude of the privileged towards violence and war. Churchill has also explored fantasy worlds in plays that serve as warnings about our own society. The Skriker (1994), which takes place half in our world and half in an underground fairy realm, provides insightful commentary on our destructive relationship to our environment and natural ecology.
Like the writers who precede her, Churchill explores issues of human identity in A Number. Her play asks us to consider what shapes our identity and to articulate what makes us individuals. Unlike her predecessors, Churchill writes from a distinctly contemporary perspective. At the time of her writing, cloning was not an entirely futuristic concept. While George Orwell imagined the telescreens of 1984, Churchill took something that already existed in our contemporary zeitgeist and expanded on it. Whereas many past works examine the tension between individuality and the state, A Number pits individuality against the scientific advances that threaten to render it meaningless.