Julie Cardia, John Feltch and Janna Cardiain in Stages Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production of Replica.

Image: Os Galindo

Let me say right off the bat that when someone says “sci-fi,” I start thinking about how I would really like to go book a massage, shop for shoes, even just eat about a million tortilla chips.  You know, things on this planet.  

There is this whole great world of narrative where there is a scientific "advance" and it leads to all sorts of problems, and they can happen right here on Earth—even somewhere like, I don’t know, Indiana. For Mickey Fisher’s Replica, a dying Midwestern mother wants her family to continue unchanged after she is dead, so she agrees to be replicated, because that is where our culture is—the inmates run the asylum, and of course the kids come first. I mean, what could go wrong? 

So, learn from my mistakes and don’t let some silly genre labeling stop you in your tracks. Replica is about the best thing I have seen all year. With the stellar acting of John Feltch and identical (or if not identical, pretty damn close) twins Janna and Julie Cardia, I was caught up in the twists and turns of this thriller. Set entirely in a scientific, hospital-like facility, the creep quotient is high. I remember when they cloned that cute sheep named Dolly decades ago, but that was a sheep for goodness' sake, and it is a whole different ball game when they make a replica of mommy

This play never lets up, and that is a good thing. John Feltch as Dr. Avalon is no mad scientist; he is earnest and convincing and believable. He explains the rocky terrain of his experiments where there are glitches that prevented him from getting this far—until now. Replicating a whole person has been hard, but he says “the memory recovery—that’s much easier.” But hold on—think of how slippery memory is with just one person involved—and you can see how the importance of memories and how we re-script them is an essential part of our identities, and difficult to decode to ourselves, much less to another. Are memories just information that can be replicated, or a more protean, messier enterprise?

But don’t think this is a world far away in the future: When Harper and her replica argue over the right parenting decisions about music lessons, for example, if you don’t wince a little at any parenting decisions you have made that you would like to do over, then it is likely you don’t have kids. But maybe you were a kid, maybe you might have kids in the future, maybe you know a kid, or maybe you do have kids—so go see this play, because it really has something to say to all of us, which is a good reminder that the more specific a moral dilemma, the more universal application it may have. When Harper says her kids “will accept her face as mine,” you can’t help but wonder if that is enough.

With a minimalist set of a lab and two chairs and a background painting, and excellent lighting and music that reflects the kaleidoscopic changes in mood of all the characters, this play demands much of the actors who force the audience to face tough questions about the centrality of family and what we sacrifice for them, the definitions of good parenting, and even the very meaning of being alive. Whose life is more important: the original existence of someone, or that of his or her replica? It’s not so easy if they have the same level of humanity. 

I would love nothing more to give away the twist and turns of this delicious drama, but that would be no fun and a little cruel. Suffice it to say that—as my son pointed out to me from the seat next to mine—there is just enough foreshadowing that things make sense and are believable, but with just the right amount of notice to keep the element of surprise.

When one of the characters says, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” I couldn’t help but think that that is the wonder of contemporary science fiction drama—maybe it can reveal the cracks in the “theoretical versus the realized” before we have realized a huge, irreversible mistake. Like not seeing this play when you have the chance.

Thru June 10. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.

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