Caryl Churchill's 1978 play is revived with a Jobsite Theater production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published June 12, 2003
In Cloud 9, male actors play female characters. A white guy plays a black guy. Characters that are played by women in Act 1 are played by men in Act 2.
TAMPA - Ami Sallee Corley has been working with the Cloud 9 script for several weeks. But she still has trouble articulating what it's about.
"This has just been the hardest play to describe," she said. "Act 1 is in colonial South Africa in the 1880s. Then in Act 2, the family from Act 1 has progressed 25 years, but they've moved forward in time 100 years in the script. We've actually moved it forward about 120 years."
It gets stranger than that. Male actors play female characters. A white guy plays a black guy. Characters that are played by women in Act 1 are played by men in Act 2. One character is portrayed by a dummy throughout.
That's not some lame example of "nontraditional casting." It's all in the script.
It sounds muddled, but it isn't. Caryl Churchill's play was one of the most highly praised comedies of 1978.
Churchill, who also wrote Vinegar Tom and Top Girls, has a reputation as a master of dramatic structure. In fact, she has been criticized for paying more attention to structure than content.
In Cloud 9, said Corley, who is directing the upcoming Jobsite Theater production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the structure and the content reinforce each other.
Part of Churchill's idea was to examine sexual mores and sexual hangups. The odd structure and casting of Cloud 9 allow her to look at how repression and perversion manifest themselves in two different eras.
The eras Churchill picked seem to be at opposite poles. Act 1 takes place at a time best known for highly mannered, even stylized, sexual hypocrisy. The play, at least in Churchill's script, concludes in the "liberated" period after the advent of the birth control pill and before the appearance of AIDS. But the characters are still subject to their upbringing and sexual conditioning.
"It seemed like, in the '70s, people thought they were on the verge of true liberation," Corley said. "It was like they were on their way to nirvana. But the people are even more screwed up than they were earlier."
It all sounds like pretty heady stuff. But even though Churchill looks at basic human issues, the play never stops being a comedy, Corley said. In fact, the word "zany" pops up frequently in reviews.
The upcoming production features a half-dozen Jobsite regulars, including David Jenkins, Summer Bohnenkamp-Jenkins, Brandy Pederson and Jason Vaughn Evans.
PREVIEW: Cloud 9, Friday through June 29, Shimberg Playhouse at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, $15.50 plus service charge. Call (813) 229-7827.