Review: ‘By & By’ at Shotgun Players

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: *****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“By & By”, produced by the Shotgun Players, plays at The Ashby Stage from May 22nd through June 23rd.)

In “By & By”, Lauren Gunderson (a very up-and-coming San Francisco playwright who specializes in work that deals with scientific issues) approaches the subject of human cloning in a play with great emotional appeal.

Biologist Steven (Michael Patrick Gaffney) is the single Dad of a teenage daughter and he has a secret which she has discovered. At first we might think she has learned that she is adopted, but then we realize that she is a clone. When her mother died in an automobile accident, her father created a clandestine clone, abandoned his laboratory, and went into virtual hiding from the scientific world to keep her protected and their secret private.

Now the secret is out, because scientists at the cloning laboratory, who have been using Steven’s technique to clone dead children for bereaved parents, have run into a difficulty. Most of the clones are flawed — they develop devastating diseases as teenagers and then die young. Steven’s child, Denise, however, is in perfect health. Why? The scientists want to know and they have found the two of them and they are demanding answers. Congressional investigations are on the horizon.

byandbyIt is a great premise, allowing playwright Gunderson to explore the situation as a coming of age story for Denise (and a love story between Steven and his deceased wife).

Framed as a sort of detective story, playwright Gunderson has teenager Denise run away from home with her father’s records to investigate the story by following various clues. It is an excellent device, and allows for many interesting scenes, including an encounter with another clone and her aging aunt who suffers from dementia. Two scientist colleagues of Steven’s keep the story on track and provide a kind of Greek chorus of analysis and comment throughout.

Michael Patrick Gaffney is excellent as the father Steven, who gradually comes to realize his responsibilities and works to come to grips, after many years, with his grief for his wife’s passing. Lynne Hollander, an exceptionally skilled actress with a fascinating history (google her name with Free Speech Movement), is quite remarkable in multiple roles, especially that of elderly  Aunt Amanda. Jennifer LeBlanc, in the dual roles of Denise (Steven’s deceased wife who lives on in memory) and Denise (Steven’s very present teenage daughter) is outstanding, and Bari Robinson shows range and charisma as one of Steven’s scientist colleagues and a cloned teenager who is dying of unknown causes.

“By & By” is an interesting and exceptionally well crafted play, emotionally grounded, and very thought provoking.

For further information, click here.

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“By and By”, a world premiere by Lauren Gunderson, produced by Shotgun Players. Director: Mina Morita. Set Design: Robert Broadfoot. Light Design: Stephanie Buchner. Wardrobe: Ashley Rogers. Sound Design: Colin Trevor.

Steven: Michael Patrick Gaffney. Amanda/Dr. Green/Receptionist: Lynne Hollander. Denise/Denise: Jennifer LeBlanc. Marcus/Dr. White: Bari Robinson.

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