by Tom Galaraga
Questioning gender specific roles while attacking oppressive and racist ideologies, is the dramatic formula that Caryl Churchill relies on for her play “Cloud Nine.”
While paralleling racial and sexual tensions throughout the play, “Cloud Nine” itself tackles the never-answered question of whether or not we as a society and people will be able to overcome our past.
“The play is about colonialism, power, family dynamics, repression and sex, but the drama draws us into the worlds of politics, gender definition and social mores, said Steven Kent in his director’s notes. “It is finally a play about self-acceptance,” Kent directs the University of La Verne’s version of “Cloud Nine.”
To articulate this theme, Churchill allows her play to span over a time period of approximately 100 years.
Perhaps the most interesting point in the play is that Churchill, in order to attack the racial and sexual expectations of society, uses cross-dressed characters to portray members of the opposite sex, and at the same time casts a white male to portray an African-American servant.
“The first act, like the society shows, is male dominated and firmly structured. In the second act, more energy comes from the women and the gays. The uncertainties and changes, and a more feminine and less authoritarian feeling, are reflected in the looser structure of the act,” wrote Churchill in her introduction to the script.
The characters of the play, primarily Edward, who is played by a women in Act one, and Victoria, who is played by a dummy in the first act, lend themselves to self-development and ultimately search for their own unique identities in the second act.
Edward, later played by an adult male, and Victoria, who is later played by a woman, strive to become individuals, but are not able to obtain complete freedom, as their history and cultural biases catch up with them.
“Many of the roles we are playing are societal constructs that are difficult to perceive, let alone to question,” said Kent. “The question ‘why am I doing this and who does it serve?’ rarely comes up.”
Kent describes the play as both serious and humorous. While tackling different topics, the audience is able to engage in and share humorous moments with the cast, he said.
“Cloud 9” opens this Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and continues through Nov. 9 and 10, and 15-17. Ticket info can be obtained at the Dailey Theatre.