Caryl Churchill's A Number is a classic father-son tale. In this play set over a series of intimate conversations, conflict arises when it's revealed that the genetic material the father used to clone his new son — and replace his estranged son — had also been used to clone dozens of other look-alikes.
Well, maybe it's not so classic. But the play does have the perfect DNA for the fifth annual Bake Off at Vermont Stage.
The Bake Off divides one play into three sections, which are then interpreted by three different directors and performed by three sets of actors. The result is a unique display of how the individual creativity of a director, and an ensemble, can lead to vastly different treatments. The production, in Burlington's FlynnSpace, is followed by a Q&A with the directors to enhance audience understanding of their choices.
Each director's plans are under strict lock and key; even producing artistic director Cristina Alicea is largely in the dark.
"I do not allow [the directors] to talk to each other," she says. "Even for me — they tell me the items they need, and I want to know how I can help facilitate the process, but ultimately it's about them finding a way to express themselves."
The format of the evening encourages directors to take risks. "If you're only doing a section of a play, it allows you to test the boundaries of gender or setting," Alicea explains. "You can do things that would be wrong in the context of a full production but are bizarre and wonderful for a portion of it.
"Thematically," she adds, "I love having fun with [A Number]. It's very meta-theatrical. It's a show about cloning, and we are going to 'clone' the play three times. It's sort of an inside joke with the audience."
Patrick Clow, the Bake Off's opening director, has the tricky job of crafting the audience's original experience with A Number, before it is "cloned" by the other two directors. The play's dialogue is disjointed and deliberately fractured, yet the audience must become voyeurs into these unraveling relationships under Clow's direction.
Second director Aly Perry is also the education manager at Vermont Stage. Asked whether she found it difficult to work with the play's middle, she puts it like this: "When you're directing, sometimes you have all these great ideas for a certain section, and you want to rush through to get to where you're excited. So, OK, we're going to start where we're excited."
Jordan Gullikson, director of the final portion of A Number, seems to be most excited about the postshow Q&A.
"It's not a competition," he says with a laugh, "but, of course, the discussion after the show becomes a little bit of a 'My section was the best one!'"
Yet the heart of the Bake Off transcends competition: "You get to experience an immense sense of creation within a short period of time," Gullikson explains. "It becomes a force of creative thinking and problem solving."
A line in A Number references the uniformity of genetic material across organisms: "We've got 99 percent the same genes as any other person," says look-alike clone Michael Black. "We've got 90 percent the same as a chimpanzee. We've got 30 percent the same as lettuce."
The segments of the Bake Off begin with the same "genes": an evocative script that leaves ample room for creative exploration. But, in the end, they might look as different as lettuce and chimpanzees.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Three's a Play"
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