Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Cloud 9"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


by Caryl Churchill
directed by Marc S. Miller

Act I:

Clive, a colonial administrator… Josh Pritchard
Betty, his wife, played by a man … Christopher J. Hagberg
Joshua, his black servant, played by a white … Mike Budwey
Edward, his son, played by a woman … Erin Scanlon
Victoria, his daughter … a dummy
Maud, his mother-in-law … Gillian Mackay-Smith
Ellen, Edward’s governess … Tara Jean Conway
Harry Bagley, an explorer … Adam Friedman
Mrs. Saunders, a widow … Danielle Bauman

Act II:

Betty … Gillian Mackey-Smith
Edward, her son … Christopher J. Hagberg
Victoria, her daughter … Erin Scanion
Lin … Tara Jean Conway
Martin, Victoria’s husband … Adam Friedman
Cathy, Lin’s daughter, age 5, played by a man … Josh Pritchard
Gerry, Edward’s lover … Mike Budwey
Soldier … Danielle Bauman

There once was a time when a Caryl Churchill play made waves; Ms. Churchill’s anger and wit now evoke the England of the late 1960s through the early 1980s when British artists smashed through their country’s decorum and dragged a temporary Brave New World from the rubble. Ms. Churchill’s CLOUD 9, a “Comedy of Multiple Organisms”, remains her most popular work: in a nineteenth-century British colony in Africa, surrounded by restless natives, the administrator Clive and his family strive to keep up appearances as their sexual frustrations mount. Family friend and explorer Harry Bagley yearns for Clive’s wife Betty, seduces Clive’s servant Joshua, has sexually initiated Clive’s young son Edward and even makes a pass at Clive, himself. Harry is quickly married off to Edward’s lesbian governess; the natives revolt, and Joshua supposedly shoots everyone at the wedding. In Act Two, set in modern-day London, some of the characters are still working through their frustrations: the grown-up Edward, though gay, becomes attracted to his sister Victoria who, in turn, is lured from her marriage by the divorcée Lin; Betty, now middle-aged, leaves Clive and begins to shed her Victorian values, flirting with Edward’s ex-lover Gerry and rediscovering herself through masturbation --- the play concludes with the two Bettys (Then and Now) coming together as one. Some of the roles are played by the opposite gender to point out the bisexual in us all.

When I saw the original New York production over two decades ago, Act One was played as a romp (no doubt, to get Ms. Churchill’s points more smoothly across) whereas Act Two’s drama and frankness were at odds with the preceding mock-evasiveness. The Longwood Players production reflects how times have softened, for better or worse, allowing director Marc S. Miller to wed the acts together; there may not be as many laughs as before but here the focus is on character, not Camp, with Act One demonstrating what repression does to the soul and Act Two, tentative steps towards the greening of one’s life. Mr. Miller’s agreeable troopers are led by the Falstaffian Josh Pritchard, nimble of voice if not of body, and Christopher J. Hagberg whose Betty is similar to his Zaza (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES) but still sweetly engaging. Erin Scanlon correctly plays Edward as a hard, green little creature rather than a coy impersonation and Gillian Mackay-Smith as Betty’s mother and Betty, herself, continues to fascinate and frustrate me: when playing Act One’s laced-in role, Ms. Mackay-Smith is true; in Act Two, where freedom rules, she continues to pass off her fumbles and mugging as a Presence --- but I’ve not given up on Ms. Mackay-Smith: she has begun to listen to her fellow actors, is not afraid to be vulnerable (her most engaging trait) and may prove a better tragedienne than comedienne; she may even make me cry, someday…

John Randell has designed a bright Pop setting with Adolph Appia-like columns set at angles to suggest a jungle thicket; said columns don’t translate into urban London unless the Messrs. Miller and Randell are saying that it’s always a jungle, out there…

"Cloud 9" (10 - 18 November)
Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (800) 595-4849

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide