One could harp on all of the social ideology about sexual oppression exposed in Caryl Churchill’s Obie Award-winning play, Cloud 9, currently being mounted by the Antaeus Theatre Company. But in Cloud 9, the ‘sexcapades’ really are the thing. And moreover, the comedy of this play, hardly abbreviated, employs a thoroughly spirited Brechtian technique which reminds the audience that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself.
Churchill takes us on an almost campy, dry-as-biscuits libidinous romp which begins in 19th century British colonial Africa, in the Victorian era where the natives are restless and the administrator Clive and his family, friend, neighbor, governness and servant, are outwardly “holding it together”, all the while flirting with sexual secrets, declarations of forbidden love, and carrying on with wickedly debased behaviors.
“I want to be a all that a man wants me to be…” certainly positions Betty, Clive’s wife, and the focus character of the piece, as a woman who does not value herself as such in an age where women were essentially power-less. And setting this character up to be played by a man, in this case hilariously and quite exquisitely by actor Bill Brochtrup, later in act 2, played by a woman, actress Deborah Puette, Churchill allows the idea that femininity is an artificial construct, a theme that evolves quite interestingly later in the play.
By the time the second act arrives (100 years later for the audience but only 25 years later for the actual characters) all the relationships get turned on their ears (or arses if you really want to know), all the characters have changed roles, and the finale is summed up by self-acceptance, in this case, the two Betty’s meet across time…a lovable device that gives the one emotional moment in a play meant to effect critical self-reflection.
Churchill’s ahead-of-her-time-brilliance is exposed by not just the gorgeous direction of Casey Stangl or the delicious character development and execution by the Antaeus “Blighters” cast (Bo Foxworth, Bill Brochtrup, Deborah Puette, Liza de Weerd, Abigail Marks, David DeSantos, Chad Borden). It is refreshing ‘un-adorned’ and carefully honed to perfection aided by a beautifully minimized set created by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, which gives the story all the air it needs.
The play was written in the 1970s during the height of the women’s movement, gay liberation and the sexual revolution. And Cloud 9 certainly pushes the boundaries of gender politics which puts this play smack in the middle of today’s relevant gender equity conversations.
In short, the Antaeus production of Cloud 9 is exceptional as is the “Blighters” cast played with an uncommon specificity and decoding of a comedy that could easily fall flat with a less seasoned, or less articulate group.
Also, extremely noteworthy: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costume design for this production is impeccable.
Recommended for mature audiences