The Exceptionals

By Bob Clyman    

The Exceptionals

Enjoy this audio recording by Ashland New Plays Festival. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

For the past five years, a team of highly regarded scientists has been studying the development of “exceptional” children. To create these children, the team selected a small group of mothers with “superior genetic scans” who agreed to be artificially inseminated by sperm donors with IQs over 180. The team has also been developing a special, cutting-edge school, which is finally ready to open. Despite the impressive abilities and skills shown by almost every five-year-old in the program, the school will only be accepting the most exceptional for the few available slots.

As the play begins, Gwen and Allie, mothers of Ethan and Michael respectively, are waiting to meet with Claire, the program director. Genetic scans aside, neither Allie nor Gwen has ever shown much in the way of promise, let alone actual accomplishments. Nor have their personalities won them many fans on the team. So they are surprised to hear that Michael and Ethan are both on the short list of finalists. However, as Claire explains, both Gwen and Allie will need to address particular, serious concerns about their own personal conduct and attitudes, or their sons will be disqualified.

The Exceptionals asks the questions, “Where do we draw the line between the desire of every parent to give his or her child the best possible start, and the cultivation of an ‘uber-child’ class? And are children to be the sociopolitical pawns of the future?”

Playwright Perspective

Whenever I hear about some shockingly unethical situation that just took place, the offenders who always interest me most are the more reasonable, “decent” ones, who were the least consciously aware that what they initially intended could have an outcome that they, as much as anyone, would have considered reprehensible. I wrote one play, Secret Order, because I was much more interested in exploring how a scientist, whose life has been dedicated to discovering the truth, could wind up committing fraud than how a bond trader could. Even if this corporate offender starts off with the same belief in honesty as the scientist, his job has always been to maximize profits, so dramatically speaking, he has had a much shorter distance to fall.

What is it about us reasonable, decent people that no matter how many times we try to reinvent the world, it always feels to us like something that other people conspired to create and impose upon us? Is the problem that we never have enough or the right information when we need to make important decisions? Or is the problem too much information so the wheat is buried under tons of chaff? Or is the problem in us? If we could somehow be given precisely the right amount and kind of information we needed, would we really make better choices?


Claire Rachel Crowl
Gwen Tamra Mathias
Allie Erica Sullivan
Tom Román Zaragoza
Stage directions Grant Luecke


The site of a donor insemination research program for exceptional children and their parents. The scene takes place in either the director of parent services office or the adjacent waiting room. Time: the foreseeable future.

Poster art by: pinstock

Genre: ,

Play Length: 1:35:05

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Playwright Image

Bob Clyman’s plays have been produced Off-Broadway and at regional theaters, including the Alley Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, San Jose Repertory Theatre, George Street Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Colony Studio Theatre in Los Angeles, Writers Theatre of New Jersey, and L.A. Theatre Works, in addition to touring Scotland. His play Secret Order was produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre under the auspices of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and received an Outer Circle Critics Award nomination for Best Script after its production at 59E59 Theatre. His plays Tranced and The Exceptionals were both supported by Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards. The Exceptionals was nominated for both Best Play and Best New Play of 2012 by The Independent Reviewers of New England and was chosen for Ashland New Plays Festival (2010). His play The Good Bet won the Stanley Drama Award (2015) and was chosen for Ashland New Plays Festival (2014). He has been awarded a number of national prizes, including a Eugene O’Neill Conference Playwrights Fellowship, a Geraldine Dodge Fellowship, Playwrights First Award, New Jersey State Arts Council Award, Edward Albee Foundation Fellowship, Berilla-Kerr Foundation Award, Djerassi Foundation Fellowship and Shenandoah Valley Playwrights Fellowship.

Rachel Crowl
Grant Luecke
Grant Luecke
Tamra Mathias
Tamra Mathias
Sullivan Erica
Erica Sullivan
Roman Zaragoza Play4Keeps
Román Zaragoza


Finalist, Best Production of a Drama, Encore Association, 2017
Finalist, Edgerton Foundation New Play Award
Finalist, IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) nomination for Best Play of 2012


The Liminal Playhouse, 2019
Contemporary American Theatre Festival (CATF), 2012
Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 2011

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