For decades, English playwright Caryl Churchill has been accorded Goddess stature in the upper reaches of play writing circles. Fiercely political, strongly on the left, Churchill made her mark with plays of attitude and insight.
1979’s hilarious and pointed work “Cloud Nine” looked at both the results of colonialism and gender identity. In 1982, her all-female “Top Girls” checked up on women’s struggle for power in a male dominated world, and what effect that had on the “girls.”
In 1987, “Serious Money” delivered a cutting -- and prescient -- look at the excesses of the bigtime financial arena in London.
Now along comes a couple of latter day works. “A Number” looks at the possibly dreadful outcome of some so-called “advances” of science. “Far Away” checks in on what Churchill seems to see as a world gone killingly mad.
To put it bluntly, even though each is receiving strong productions by the Gamm, both of these plays are clunkers. They are simply howls of anger and fear, screeds, really, done at great decibels without very much specific to say.
In each, Churchill seems to be declaiming that she’s fed up with this universe of ours. “I’m just bloody well done with this blankety-blank world,” she seems to be saying.
In “A Number” from 2002 she looks in on a father who has really made a mess of things. Without giving too much away he has had his son cloned; there are 19 others around just like son number one. You can understand that a son, each of them, is pretty unhappy about all this if they happen to find out the truth.
In “A Number” three of the boys, all played dexterously, by the Gamm’s Tony Estrella, show up and take on Dear Old Dad with various emotions. Played well by Jim O’Brien, although he is too young to be Estrella’s father, Dad is progressively ruined by his well-meant actions.
Director Judith Swift inserts some fine interest and intrigue into the production. Wearing hoodies, stagehands arrive frequently in the near-darkness and rearrange photos all over the walls. It’s a nice, edgy trick. But in the end, “A Number” falls well short of either making its point or being of great interest.
First done in 2000, “Far Away” begins better. We see a lovely young girl awakened by strange noises. She’s comforted by a mother-like woman. “Don’t worry , darling” the girl is told. But the child certainly has much to be discomfited about. “Far Away” careens then into a murderous mirage. Shotguns and beatings prevail.
So does a kooky set up in a hat factory where designers compete on a weekly basis to come up with the best of weird hats. The winners go on; the losers are done away with.
In the end, all is murderous horror. The dialogue kills you, too. “Latvia has been sending pigs to Sweden!” is one line. “The cats have come over on the side of the French” is another. All you can say is “Huh?”
Led by a vibrant Casey Seymour Kim, the actors do all they can. Tony Estrella has directed with good pacing and real attempts at lending cohesion to this wacky world. But Churchill’s un-comely play simply piles up bodies in the streets. Certainly we recoil from the genocidal world we live in. But this play goes at it with all too much fantasy to make much of a difference.
Churchill’s latest play “Love and Information” makes its American debut in February in New York. Let’s hope she’s turned things around.
Want to Go?
“A Number” and Far Away” continue at the Gamm Theatre through October 13th.