Genomics Blog

March 1, 2013 8:15 AM
Sequence: Science and Art spiral together on the stage
Filed Under: Gerry Ward

Luckily for me, Calgary was the location for the world premiere production of Sequence, a play by Arun Lakra. It was the Grand Prize Winner of the 2011 Alberta Playwriting Competition, and a finalist in the international STAGE Competition (Scientists, Technologists & Artists Generating Exploration). And through a lucky series of events, I found out about it in time to get tickets and go.

The play was presented by Downstage Theatre, a Calgary-based company dedicated to producing Canadian theatre that creates conversation around social issues. Sequence is indeed a play that initiates a lot of thinking about social issues. Like looking at a two-dimensional sketch of DNA, the complementary strands of the play weave back and forth. The viewer must focus carefully as luck, religion, science and coincidence form the complex strands of the play, all delivered with rapid-pace dialogue. At the end of the performance, the folks at Downstage moderated a deconstruction of the issues among the audience and the actors.

It was intriguing to see how the two complementary stories were staged. In the one story we have Theo, described as Time Magazine’s luckiest man in the world, and his interaction with Cynthia, a lucky member of his audience who won the draw to see him at the end of his book-talk presentation. Their interaction takes us through a discussion of mathematical theories and the probabilities of coin tosses. As an aside, I saw that Dr. Lakra’s top choice in books includes The Drunkard's Walk and his inclusion of the Fibonacci series in the play makes me think he probably read Mathematicians of LIfe as well.

The second story gives us the intense interaction between Dr. Guzman, a near-blind stem cell researcher who has been scooped while looking for the gene responsible for her illness, and the seemingly very unlucky Mr. Adamson, a wheelchair-bound student who believes his actions are controlled by God guiding his decisions. Through her discussion with Mr. Adamson, Dr. Guzman informs the audience about the importance of the sequence of DNA, and how small changes in the sequence may lead to serious genetic diseases.

If you go, listen carefully: there are lots of humourous one-liners in the play. In the discussion period afterwards, the actors indicated that they can almost determine where the various disciplines of scientists are sitting by the location of the laughs. I enjoyed this play tremendously and I hope that it gets wider distribution so that many more people get a chance to see it and discuss the issues of luck and destiny.

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