CLOUD 9: Comedy by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Allie Moss. Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA. (415) 798-2682 or http://www.custommade.org.
November 20 – December 15, 2019
Cloud 9 is a thoughtful satirical farce at Custom Made.
Caryl Churchill’s plays keep popping up throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and the latest is Cloud 9 receiving an award winning performance at Custom Made’s intimate theatre. Written in 1979 it has her distinctive stamp of time shifting and non-traditional casting. Adding to this idiosyncrasy in Cloud 9, Act 1 takes place in 1880 Africa and Act two in 1980 London although the characters are the same they have only aged 25 years. She is skewering British Colonialism and Victorian sexual mores.
She specifies in the working script that her characters have disregard for gender and race. The most vocal character in Act 1 is Clive a colonial administrator leader played brilliantly bombastic by Evan Winet. Betty is his wife played by a man (superbly depicted with nary a hint of drag by Mario Mazzetti). Joshua (Alan Coyne) - his black servant, played by a white man and young son Edward played by a woman (a bundle of activity by Alejandra Wahl). Added to the disregard of gender casting Churchill creates a young daughter Victoria as a rag doll that is trashed in synch with the whipping of the black stable boys.
Throughout Act one the harsh effects of colonial domination are intermingled with distinctive characters with hidden sexual desires many of them homoerotic. Lesbianism is suggested by Mrs Saunders (Renee Rogoff) wearing riding habits and buttressed by the proximity of Ellen ((Renee Rogoff) and Betty (Monica Cappuccini). The super masculine explorer Harry (Zaya Kolia) is homosexual and Clive advises that marriage will sublimate that urge. There is a plethora of sexual liaisons while the restless natives are being massacred. It is heart wrenching that Joshua rejects his black heritage assuming white sensibilities.
With the shift to a park in 1980 London, Victorian morals have mostly been shed and Churchill explores the relationships of straight, married, gay and lesbian couples. That was almost 40 years ago and there has been a significant change. You will recognize the characters from act one now playing other roles and other genders. The most eye-popping change is Evan Winet now playing a six year girl flouncing around in a lacy dress. Renee Rogoff has a show stopping scene that was received in complete silence by the audience. Yes, it is sexual and does not require a partner.
Director Allie Moss has the good fortune to have a multi-level set (Heather Kenyon) that only requires a wicker settee to define the Colonial period and in act two a London wooden park bench with only the brief appearance of one other piece of furniture. Candice Liao’s costume design captures the colonial era perfectly.
Review by Kedar K. Adour, MD
CLOUD 9 Custom Made Theatre November 20 – December 15, 2019
Running time is 2 hours an 15 minutes including an intermission.
CAST: Evan Winet as Clive, Cathy, Soldier; Mario Mazzetti as Betty, Edward; Alejandra Wahl as Edward, Vic; Alan Coyne as Joshua, Gerry; Renee Rogoff as Ellen, Mrs Saunders, Lin; Monica Cappuccini as Maud, Betty; Zaya Kolia as Harry, Martin.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director Allie Moss; Scenic Designer Heather Kenyon; Costume Designer Candice Liao; Lighting Designer Emma Satchell; Sound Designer Everett Elton Bradman; Properties Designer Christine Sturken; Assistant Costume Designers Ge Jia, Finch Xu; Stage Manager Tony Parker.