Ah, yes, welcome back, “Cloud Nine.” Churchill’s play was a hit in certain quarters back there when the world as we knew it seemed to be tumbling onto a landscape that was unclear and wonderful and scary.
The play won an Obie, Off Broadway’s version of the Tony Awards. It was done around the country by risk-taking regional theaters including a crackerjack production in the 1983-84 season at what we then called the Trinity Square Repertory Company in Providence.
But as with much of playwright Churchill’s writing, it was not for everybody. After all, “Cloud Nine” is filled with sex and drugs and, if not rock ‘n’ roll, then all kinds of rough language, sex acts, and opinions that were hardly mainstream.
Consider that the first act takes place in some far off British colony in Africa during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was a time, Churchill maintained, that saw men as seemingly strong and in charge while women were overworked and overlooked. And the treatment of the Africans, well, flogging and forgetting were just the beginning.
In “Cloud Nine,” gender roles were thrown aside. Men play women and vice versa. Dark skinned people play light-skinned people. And vice versa. And did I mention sex, hetro and homo? It was everywhere—just below the surface.
Act two finds the playwright has jumped to the late 1970s and brought back her characters as denizens of that drug-filled time of love and battle. There’s more on women’s rise, and rights. Gays and lesbians are beginning to feel their anger, and their power. And once again gender roles are reversed and revised.
All of this is a load to handle. Under direction by Ryan Hartigan, a New Zealander working on a Ph.d at Brown, the cast is quick and smart. On a tilted set and right in front of you in the company’s tiny theater they quite well maintain a sort of frothy fierceness as they gallivant on the tricky stage through all kinds of hoops.
Too many actors in too many roles to mention them all. But I particularly liked Amy Lee Connell, a female who managed to be a funny-real boy. Stephanie Traversa was wonderful in two female roles and Andrew Katzman wild and wide as Betty, the biggest female around.
But what of the play? It seemed to me that Churchill had her guns loaded and firing accurately in act one. Nothing like taking on the horrors of colonialism and male dominance. You probably won’t see it done better than in “Cloud Nine.”
Act two, I think, did not score as well in looking at the loopy and troublesome days of the 1970 into the ‘80's. It was as if the playwright had had lots of time to know just what she thought about the past but was as confused as any of us by the erratic and erotic era of the 70’s and 80’s.
But no matter. In a strong production at the Contemporary Theater, “Cloud Nine” remains a play worth catching once again. Just don’t bring the kids.
Want To Go?
“Cloud Nine” continues at the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield through May 3rd .
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