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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Sequence

This is the most important science story since the Manhattan Project. No, it's way more important because it affects every single one of us so deeply, so intimately. This is the story. The story. I mean, it gives the Bible a run for its money, you know?— Kellie
The Sequence
Karri Krause in The Sequence
The world premiere of The Sequence at the Theatre at Boston Court attempts to combine a scientific history lesson with theater. Based on a true story, the play documents the race between scientists Craig Venter and Francis Collins to sequence the human genome. Collins headed the Human Genome Project (HGP), a project coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Venter, on the other hand, was president of "Celera Genomics." He spearheaded the "shotgun" method to decode genes, resulting in a competition between a privately funded corporation with the intention of patenting genes, and a public initiative to keep the codes accessible to everyone.

If it sounds complicated, it is. Paul Mullin does an admirable job of breaking down both sides of the argument, but at the show's core is still a heady, intellectual competition, immersed in scientific jargon that only partially translates. Craig Venter (a compelling Hugo Armstrong) seems unconcerned with the ethical issues involved in using scientific discovery as a means to make money. Francis Collins (a droll William Salyers) appears to be the more admirable of the two, but we quickly learn that in the race for fame nothing is what it appears. Narrating the events, journalist Kellie Silverstein (Karri Krause), takes us on her personal voyage to win a Pulitzer and to decide whether to take a test to determine her future—if she is genetically predisposed to develop breast cancer. Ultimately, although the show has its moments, the presentational narrative makes it hard to invest in the emotional arcs of the characters, and to believe Kellie when she claims "This is the story. The story. I mean, it gives the Bible a run for its money, you know?"

The problem here is, in many ways, the story. Although we are given a science lesson that reminds one of a high school biology class on drugs (Kellie even commands Venter and Collins to spice things up and make it more sexy) it's still hard to fully grasp exactly WHAT will be achieved when the genome is decoded. Perhaps this is why, although the real life race ended fairly recently, most of us have little idea of the events that took place. Venter and Collins have not yet achieved Watson and Crick status.

Although the production design and visual effects are top notch, the characters have trouble breaking through to the audience with their dialogue. Mullin's writing tries to connect us to our narrator, Kellie, and her emotional turmoil over the test for the breast cancer gene, but Krause's delivery is too presentational. Lines that should be thrown away are delivered with such precision that the pace and tone are lost. However, when the show works, it does so brilliantly — instances where Vetner and Collins connect are riveting, and the fact that the story really happened helps engage.

Still, moments that resonate are lost within the science. The script was originally commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Project in Science and Technology. Science and technology are indeed front and center, but as the play itself admits, DNA is never going to be as interesting as the Manhattan Project and nuclear bombs. Kellie even spells it out: "The Manhattan project they understood. The bomb sold itself. In a flash." Although The Sequence tries its best to sell with flashes of light and projections galore, it ultimately falls prey to its own inability to communicate.

The Sequence Directed By: John Langs
Written By: Paul Mullin
Cast: Hugo Armstrong, Karri Krause and William Salyers
Scenic Design: Gary Smoot
Lighting Design; Jose Lopez
Costume Design: Dianne K. Graebner
Sound Design: Robbin E. Broad and Joseph M. Wilbur
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission
Dates: Now through November 9, 2008. Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8pm; Sun at 2 pm
70 North Mentor Avenue at Boston Court, Pasadena, CA 91116.
Tickets: $32
Tickets: Available online at or the box office at 626-683-6883
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 10/12/08.
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