8/14/2013 1:48 PM
One of the more complicated depictions of gender and sexuality in Britain over the course of a hundred years, but only two generations, Cloud 9 tells the story of a nuclear family, as performed by several people of varying genders. To further complicate the story, the actors change parts over the course of two acts to better illustrate the gender and racial roles played out on the grand global stage of Britain in its colonial heyday and in its post-colonial state. Caryl Churchill takes her audience on a journey much farther than deepest Africa or back to the Victorian age, but to some deeply intrinsic questions about ourselves and our society and how we do or do not fit into these constructs.
The farcical quality of the first act is nicely paced, with some really unexpected and comical turns that liven the somewhat dark ideas at play. The second act seems harshly realistic in comparison, but this turn gives the play some needed gravitas for a discussion of a post-colonial identity. An engaging read that would be a challenge to stage well, Cloud 9 should not be overlooked by the theatre wanting a bit of social subversion.
Laura Jo Schuster
4/18/2013 4:50 PM
"Cloud 9" is a near-perfect examination of gender politics. Churchill's play technically spans a century, with Act One taking place in Victorian Colonial Africa, and Act Two one hundred years later in London. By taking advantage of some gender-bending conceits, Churchill is able to point out the ridiculousness of Victorian ideals without sounding preachy or losing the attention of the audience. She focuses on traditional gender roles, with very English Clive as the stiff-upper-lip, can-do-no-wrong head of the household. His wife Betty (played by a man) is completely reliant upon Clive for her well-being and self-worth: she is the epitome of Victorian values, and must embody whatever Clive expects of her. Churchill masterfully satirizes Victorian life by casting men as women and vice-versa, with the added complication of African servant Joshua (played by a white man). The characters are fascinatingly oppressed by their society and locked into their gender roles with the exception of the widow Mrs. Saunders, who prefers to remain single and make her own decisions (for which she becomes a scapegoat at the end of Act One). Sexuality is running rampant, as if the characters are squeezed so tightly by societal rules that they cannot help but act out. Act One is at the same time horrific and hilarious; each character has a specific subversive agenda they desperately try and fulfill while still appearing to be the picture of Victorianism.
Act Two addresses many of the same characters (only one hundred years later in London). While Act One satirizes the Victorians, Act Two is a genuine quest for identity for many of the characters. Homosexuality, self-discovery, and the dissolution of traditional marriage are at the forefront of the issues. Perhaps the most poignant moment is a monologue from Betty--now played by a woman--where she admits to being afraid of life without Clive, but has found strength and peace in her own sexuality.
This play is a must-read for college students, but perhaps its nuances and complexities are best performed by a professional company. With "Cloud 9," Churchill hits a number of nails squarely on the head.
4/18/2013 11:01 AM
Caryl Chuchill’s bold exploration of roles and their effect on society is constructed very conspicuously: The first act, which takes place on a remote military outpost in Africa in the Victorian era, plays like a well-made farce. It is a flawlessly nuanced, insightful, and tautly structured commentary on sexuality, class, and colonialism. Churchill’s humanist point is stated brilliantly here: That people don’t belong in a rigid gender and/or societal roles. The second act, taking place in the liberated London of 1979, features a less wieldy structure. While some scenes are downright odd (for example, the drunken orgy scene), the structure, or lack thereof, reflects the looser social mores of the time period well. However, there is a plot hole: At the end of the first act, the family servant Joshua is about to shoot the patriarch Clive. No mention of this is made during the second act, and the event has no implications whatsoever on the plot or the characters. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate choice made by Churchill, or an oversight on her part.