Written by Caryl Churchill Directed by Lynda Newton Clive & Martin......................Paul Ahern Betty & Gerry......................Jeff Garlin Joshua & Edward..................Marty Barrett Edward & Lin..........Danielle Fateaux Jacques Maud & Betty.................Genevieve Allison Ellen/Mrs. Saunders & Victoria..Abigail Harvey Harry Bagley & Cathy.................Ben Davis Soldier.....................Christopher Murphy Costume Design by Christine Clukey Stage Manager JulieAnn Wilks A TheatreZone production at ACTORS WORKSHOP 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON 1(617)666-0732 Fridays & Saturdays till 3 August
At some Broadway theatres, some people practice an illicit tradition called "second-acting" --- i.e., hanging about the front of the theatre till the act-break, then flowing back in with the paying customers to take any empty seat to see, however puzzling, the rest of the show. Anyone "second-acting" TheatreZone's production of "Cloud 9" will be puzzled, but they'll see the best half of the show.
Act I is a send-up of Victorian hypocrisy. The lonely white males who make things run in the Africa of the 1880's doggedly maintain traditional Victorian family values no matter how stiff it makes all their upper lips. They flog naughty natives, shoot rebels, train loyal house-boys, seduce their best friends' wives, sleep with anything that moves --- but in every case in strict adherance to The Rules. It's pith-helmet and crinolin decorum at all costs --- until they snap --- yet even the snapping has rigid conventions. And no matter what anyone does, they are duty-bound not to enjoy it.
As written these are stiff cardboard-cutouts, stiffly paper-thin and hilarious. But Director Lynda Newton allows her cast to behave as though they and the audience were all in on the joke, so no one on stage suggests the slightest hint of iron rectitude. The lack of pure style in this approach means none of these characters play rigid roles; instead they shift uneasily from compromise to compromise as though they always expected the rules would be broken, so it's little surprise when they are.
Everyone is on much surer ground in the London of 1980, where explicit language and unashamed sexuality still has everyone sleeping with anything that moves and talking at considerable length about it --- yet still not finding perfect bliss. Here everyone on stage has sincere personal drives and needs; it's a rigid social structure in which to develop them that they lack. Personal freedom does them in as surely as the lack of it did their parents in the previous act.
Oh, that's another aspect of the script that isn't reflected clearly in this production. The feisty boy of act one joyously seduced by his Uncle Harry grows into the gay willing house-husband of act two. The rag-doll baby grows into a reserved, over-intelligent, undecided wife. The unfulfilled long-suffering mother becomes a bewildered old divorcee learning to work and live as something else but a man's other-half. Here, because of shifting double-casting, nothing but the names in the program reflects this sea-change.
That said, everyone in the cast has at least a few shining moments. Danielle Fauteaux Jacques is a perky, hyperactive, questing young son in the first act, and a perky, hyperactive, questiong lesbian single-mother in the second. Genevieve Allison is grandma in both --- with a spunky self-awareness developing slowly along the way. Ben Davis is the sexual opportunist Uncle Harry, but a spoilt first-grade Cathy in the second act. Jeff Garlin (who is Black) in crinolin bustle and fan is the vapors- prone White lady of the house, then a vain Black gay predator. Marty Barrett (who is White) plays a Black house-boy, then a White gay house-husband. Abigail Harvey is both a governess in love with her mistress and a haughty independent neighbor farm-wife, then an undecided breadwinner-wife. And Paul Ahearn is her beligerantly wishy-washy hubby, after having been the colonial Victorian house-head previously.
The company is best either in direct-to-the-audience monologs, or physically intimate scenes of emotional tenderness. The governess' confession of love is such a moment in the first act. Act II has a dim-lit goddess-ritual/orgy/apparition-scene, crowned by Christopher Murray's walk-on as the angry ghost of a Tommy killed in Belfast. It's the scenes that demand pure, rigid style that fall apart --- perhaps because of too little rehearsal time. These are all in act I, so anyone second-acting will probably get the best deal.