Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Interesting Revival of Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9

Also see Richard's recent review of Cabaret

I was introduced to this play at the Theater de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) in Greenwich Village. Tommy Tune directed that production in 1981. I was not impressed. A few years later, a local company mounted a production here in San Francisco. It was so successful that the play moved to a larger theater downtown. I wonder if the success was due to the titillating language. Today we're not so easily shocked, and the language is old hat.

Act one of Cloud 9 is set in Colonial Africa, circa 1880. The characters seem to come directly from a British or MGM movie; proper Victorians with stiff upper lips, "saving" and ruling Africans. They all love their Queen, their families and the flower of British manhood, and the woman is in her place as homemaker and mother. The family in this production seems stereotypically perfect on the surface. There's Clive, father and colonial official, and Betty his wife, calm and cultured, and sexually frustrated. Their son Edward still plays with rag dolls but prefers the company of men. There is also Mrs. Saunders, the boy's whip-carrying governess and Clive's friend Harry, the stereotypical manly explorer. Finally there is Joshua, the black servant who has the true pulse of the family.

In an exploration of the parallel between Western colonial oppression and Western sexual oppression, in the first act the author has the visiting Harry instantly seduce the wife, the son, and the servant, then marry the lesbian governess. During that act, the play examines an abundance of sexual mores from heterosexual adultery to bisexual incest.

Act two is set in London 100 years later. The structure of the Victorian society had collapsed but the characters still ensnare themselves in hackneyed behavior. Scenes change and characters come and go rapidly. Soliloquies are short and sweet. The bullying head of the family in the first act becomes the 29 year old son in the second act. The "black" servant in the first act becomes a young Shirley Temple-like daughter who is a little too much. The wife in the first act becomes a gay hustler in the second act. Churchill likes to get things mixed up well so all of the audience's preconceptions about gender, romance and lifestyle are scrambled, neutralized and hopefully rebuilt.

It is the acting ensemble of the New Conservatory Theatre that saves this play. All of the cast members are outstanding in their respective roles in both acts. Veteran actor Lee Corbett makes a very good transition from the arrogant and loud father to the weak and feminine son in the second act. Kenny Neal Shultz is a proper Victorian wife on the outside, but a volcano inside. She makes an excellent transition into a British male hustler in the second act. Jeff Larson as Harry, the bisexual explorer, has the proper British accent and was admirable both of his roles. Megan Towle was outstanding as the little boy Edward and very good as Victoria in the second act. She has a fine manner of acting and a great voice. One of the finest performances was by newcomer John Michael Beck who goes from being "black" slave to the "Shirley Templesque" precocious brat in the second act. Patricia Miller and Tiffany Hoover both are fine in their roles with the latter running around the stage in the first act in riding habit and cracking that whip.

The production as a whole showed signs of good direction. Arturo Catricala kept pace and precision throughout the action which at times becomes a little farcical. The production will play at the New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave until June 30. Tickets are $15 to $25 and are available from the box office at (415)861-8972. The final play of the current season will be Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. It opened on May 9 and runs until July 14.

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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