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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: November 10, 2014

Portland-based Dramatic Rep opens its season with ‘A Number,’ a play about identity and how we see ourselves

Written by: Bob Keyes
Actors Corey Gagne and Michael Howard during a rehearsal of new play called “A Number” at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater in Portland.  John Patriquin/staff photo

Actors Corey Gagne and Michael Howard during a rehearsal of new play called “A Number” at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater in Portland. John Patriquin/staff photo

Keith Powell Beyland surprised himself when he realized that in his fifth season as artistic director of Portland-based Dramatic Repertory Company, he had yet to produce a play by a playwright he admired most: Caryl Churchill.

The British writer is a major force in theater, and someone Beyland has long appreciated. In New York, he worked on a production of Churchill’s “Mad Forest,” which he described as “one of those epiphany experiences” when the actors, director and writer come together around an idea that results in a profoundly moving experience for the audience and creators alike.

That remains his ideal for any show that he produces, and certainly one he hopes to achieve with the season-opener for DRC, Churchill’s modern tragedy “A Number.”

It’s on stage through Nov. 22 at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.

In “A Number,” Churchill focuses on human cloning. She wrote the play in 2002, when stories about cloning were part of the current news. In the play, a father is confronted by his son, who is a clone of an original son. As the play evolves, the audience meets a total of three sons.

The theme revolves around issues of identity and how we see ourselves, director Daniel Burson said.

How would you feel if you found out you were a copy of someone else, he asked.

The show involves a cast of two: Corey M. Gagne, who plays the three sons, and Michael Howard, who plays the father.

While the sons are nearly identical in appearance, they have vastly different personalities and language tendencies. The challenge of working with a small cast is also its reward, Burson said.

The outcome of the play rests squarely on the shoulders of Gagne and Howard and whatever chemistry they develop. Working with Burson, their rehearsals were about finding rhythm, rapport and comfort, not only with each other but with their characters.

Churchill does not include a lot of stage direction or punctuation, which allows emotional resonance to come directly from the actors and director, Burson said. When it works, that’s the epiphany experience that Beyland discovered in New York and one that he hopes to achieve each time he mounts a show.

Like Beyland, Burson appreciates Churchill’s writing.

“She is just an amazing writer in terms of the words on the page. She creates these fascinating and intense situations in her plays, but what I love is the language and the words. It’s very precise, but she leaves spaces for productions to find their own way,” he said.

She For this three-show season, Beyland is featuring only plays by women. He has dubbed the season, “A Year of the Woman Playwright.”

He said plays by women are under-represented in most theaters – in Portland and around the country. In addition to “A Number,” the DRC season includes Johnna Adams’ “Gideon Knot” in March and Madeleine George’s “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” opening in May.

“A Number”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and Nov. 19 to 22
WHERE: Portland Ballet Studio Theatre, 517 Forest Ave., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $10 to $20, (800) 838-3006,

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