For its latest theatrical concoction, Shotgun Players has cooked up something like no other. Premiering this past weekend at The Ashby Stage was “By and By,” a new play written by San Francisco playwright Lauren Gunderson, a science fiction thriller that explores the realistic possibilities of cloning and the ethical dilemmas that follow.
Gunderson first appeared on the Bay Area theater scene in 2011 with the premiere of her debut play, “Exit, Pursued by Bear,” presented by the Crowded Fire Theatre Company. In the space of two years, she has debuted seven plays total and is making quite a name for herself in the local arts scene. “By and By” is only one of the three new plays Gunderson will be presenting this year.
Science fiction seems rather uncommon among theatrical plays; however, Gunderson and director Mina Morita have together brought to life an extraordinary production that magically and thrillingly transcends time and space. This is done through precise and ingenuitive staging and creative technical supplements of lighting, sound and design.
The art of theatre seeks to recreate an experience unlike our very own. The theatrical experience is one meant to connect worlds and lives in an appealing and creative manner, bringing together audience members and the story being told on stage, both aesthetically and emotionally. Shotgun Players’ “By and By” is a theatrical work that does just that. It tells the story of Steven, a leading scientist in human cloning, and his teenage daughter Denise. As the play opens, Steven has just revealed to Denise that she is, in fact, a clone of his ex-wife of the same name who died years ago. After 18 years of living in seclusion, Steven has run into a bit of trouble, for he was the first scientist to successfully design the human clone experiment, and the products of his design are now becoming sick and dying off; Denise, however, has remained healthy. Distraught, Denise runs away to seek answers to the the questions she has regarding her existence.
The play is composed of four actors — each playing more than one character, with the exception of Michael Patrick Gaffney as Steven. Jennifer Le Blanc portrays both the modern-day teenage Denise as well as the ghostly embodiment of her predecessor, the wife Denise. While Le Blanc captures the role of the elder Denise wonderfully, she comes off completely unbelievable as the teenager daughter Denise.
Credit must be given to the two actors with more obscure roles — Lynne Hollander, who sublimely takes on her three roles as Denise’s manic aunt Amanda, the creepy government worker Dr. Green and the sweet receptionist of the support group for clone families; and Bari Robinson as the clone child nearing the brink of death, Marcus, and the other eerie government worker, Dr. White. Hollander and Robinson performed their roles exceptionally and believably, all while swiftly maneuvering between scenes.
“By and By” explores a world in which human cloning is relevant and the ways in which it could affect the world. It dives deep into the moral problems and issues that would arise amid such a phenomenon. It is mostly the content and plotline of the production that makes the work one so exceptional. The story told seems more appropriate for film or television — however, Shotgun Players has managed to create a whole new kind of theatrical experience that defies the limits of live theater.
Shotgun Players’ “By and By” will be running through June 23 at The Ashby Stage.