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A Number 

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8:15 p.m. and Sundays, 2:15 p.m. Continues through Feb. 7 2010
Price: $22.50-$45

Burdened by new genetic technologies and huge moral quandaries, Caryl Churchill's A Numberis nonetheless a taut, swift play. Such qualities owe in part to its duration -- fifty minutes, with no intermission -- and its set design -- a small, bone-white stage where two actors circle each other, as though bound by centrifugal force. But it's the play's subject matter that truly propels it forward. A mad scientist named Salter (James Carpenter) clones his child at age four, then puts the kid up for adoption. Somehow, the lab ends up minting twenty clones instead of one, and Salter ends up keeping the mild-mannered Bernard 2 as a replacement for his original son, Bernard 1. Salter blames the lab for overzealousness, though it's never clear if "they" were actually just doing his bidding. (Nor is it clear whether Bernard 1 is the "real" son, or just another copy). Disaster occurs when Bernards 1 and 2 meet in adulthood, and have to jockey for position. Carpenter is downright chilling, though it's Gabriel Marin who steals the show here, playing both Bernards and a third clone, Michael Black. A Number takes the old question of predestination versus free will and gives it a postmodern spin. Through February 7 at DeanLesherRegionalCenter for the Arts (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek). $22.50-$45. CenterRep.org

— Rachel Swan

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