Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill, Southwestern University, September 28 - October 2

Cloud Nine Caryl Churchill Southwestern University

Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine is a gender bender and a time twister, a sly comic look at sex and sexual roles in the Victorian British Empire and in the contemporary United Kingdom. One of the many clever twists of the piece, the fruit of some intensive workshopping with actors, is that seventy-five years pass between the two acts but the characters age only thirty years. Churchill explained that that arose from the fact that her 1970's contemporaries felt that their own sexual roles were shaped by the standards of Victorian England.

Some of the results are predictable -- males with flaring nostrils and surging sexual drives in colonial Africa, a devotion to good Queen Victoria, women dutiful yet unfulfilled, and the modern confusions about marriage, sexuality and child-rearing. Others are anything but predictable: notably the cross-gender casting in both worlds, which directly raises the issues of roles, gender roles, play and role-play.

Add to that the audacious transformations of the seven-member cast. Robert Frost as manly Clive, master of the mansion, the family and the natives in deepest darkest Africa in Act I, becomes the impetuous and spoiled seven-year-old Cathyin Act II. Chris Weihert, who in conscientious drag plays Clive's pining wife Betty in the first part, becomes Vicki's miffed, well meaning husband in the second. Jessica Hughes slips a full generation with the ease of a firefighter dropping down the fire pole in response to a three-alarm fire: sniffy traditional mother Maud living with her daughter Betty and family in an increasingly menacing Africa, and then Betty herself, now in her sixties, divorced, alone and slowly awakening to her own long-neglected body.

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