BWW Review: Antaeus Transforms CLOUD 9 into a Resounding 10!
Caryl Churchill's 1982 Obie Award-winning CLOUD 9 receives a hilarious, yet heartstring-tugging revitalization from the always reliable Antaeus Theatre Company. Casey Stangl expertly directs her very talented cast as they skillfully navigate the complexities of each undertaking dual roles. What an incredible showcase for these actors to display their diverse acting ranges.
Act One focuses on Clive, a British commanding officer stationed in a British colony in Africa during Victorian times. Clive also rules his household of his dutiful wife Betty, their two young children Edward and Victoria, and Betty's mother Maud who turned a short visit into a long permanent stay. They have an African houseboy Joshua and a governess Ellen for their children.
The everyday monotony of isolated rural life gets jolted with the uninvited arrival of an ailing neighbor Mrs. Saunders and the highly anticipated return of Clive's friend Harry. With sexual acts performed and explicit sexual terms bandied about, CLOUD 9 must have been quite shocking and risqué in 1982. In 2016, the "shock" from hearing upright Britishers talk raunchy (albeit in a variety of very consistent British accents) simply ensues in much audience' laughter. The various sexual couplings/flirtations abound amongst these surprisingly randy characters.
Act Two opens in London 1979 with the characters of Eddie, Vicky and their mother Betty 25 years later. (Just go with it!) Different actors now take on these three continuing individuals.
Clive receives much authority and bravado from Bo Foxworth as he manages the uprisings of angry natives while protecting his family and, on the side, having his way with Mrs. Saunders. In Act Two, Foxworth most comically succeeds in playing Cathy, an extremely precocious, hyper-active, purposely annoying terror of a little girl.
Bill Brochtrup, primly dressed and coiffed as Betty, actually makes you forget a man is playing a woman. Brochtrup never camps it up. (Well, never more than the entire hysterical soap opera feel of Act One.) With just the right amount of posing, double takes and comic timing, Brochtrup's Betty a full three-dimensional Victorian desperate housewife. Brochtrup's Betty's a totally submissive non-person living solely for the needs of her husband Clive - very pre-women's rights.
Deborah Puette nails her portrayal of the young son Edward with his innocent, boyish enthusiasm and 'hero worship of' (aka sexual attraction to) 'Uncle' Harry. A complete change of attitude for Puette as the 1979 Betty in Act Two. Puette's Betty has left Clive to manage on her own in London. She advances as far in her independence as acquiring a receptionist job while still in daily touch with Vicky and Eddie. Betty's sexual re-discovery of herself would make Gloria Steinem proud. Puette has the fastest, non-stop line deliveries since Madeline Kahn's "(Not) Getting Married Today" in Sondheim's Company. Nice!
Liza de Weerd's spot-on as Maud, the exasperating mother-in-law who never leaves. De Weerd's Maud's the judgmental, opinionated mother even her own daughter doesn't want to be around. In Act Two, de Weerd's the free-spirit, adventurous Vicky with a husband Martin and a little son Tom.
David DeSantos makes a completely charming rogue as Harry, Clive's good friend and the object of both young Edward and his mother Betty's desires. In Act Two, DeSantos displays his fast-talking finesse as Martin.
The wonderful Abigail Marks not only enacts two different roles in the two acts, she plays an additional role in Act One with very quick, quick changes for her well- timed exits and entrances. Marks initially enters as the dutiful governess Ellen looking after the young Edward and the baby girl Victoria (actually a ragdoll baby). Everyone treats the doll as if the toy were a living breathing infant; that is, until they start tossing it back and forth through the air like a volleyball. Fantastic comedy bit! Back to Marks... Her Ellen cozies up to her employer Betty closer than any employee should as she declares her love for her. No sooner does Ellen leave the stage, than the buxom-heaving neighbor Mrs. Saunders enters. Marks as the married neighbor now living alone has a most side-splitting scene in which she delivers a monologue (on some non-descript, everyday subject) while Clive's pleasuring her completely hidden underneath her dress. (The scene following has Clive's follow-up/cover-up actually 'going there.' OMG!!! HYS.STER.RIC. CAL!!!)
In Act Two, Marks dominates her scenes as Lin, the lesbian mother of the bratty Cathy who hits on Vicky. Marks' Ellen and Lin appear to be the most grounding characters in this crazy bunch of high drama histrionics, achieving great balance of pathos and frivolity.
Chad Borden ably limns the African houseboy Joshua, a devoted household snitch for Clive with a total disrespect for Betty and an inexplicable dislike for Edward. Borden's velvet vocals get a gorgeous workout in Joshua's first act solo. In Act Two, Borden turns unsympathetically hedonistic and self-centered as Gerry, Eddie's lover. Brochtrup smoothly essays the grown-up Eddie now possessing the same doormat passiveness as his mother Betty in Act One.
Kudos to wigs designer Jessica Mills and costumer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg for creating a realistically Victorian look. And as fake mustaches can be distracting, all the men's faux mustaches here looked natural to each man. Compliments to the following technical designers for their integral expertise: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz for her handsome scenic design; Jenny Smith Cohn for her spare use of props, Leigh Allen for her appropriately fetching lighting and Peter Bayne for his complementary sound and music contributions.
In Antaeus tradition of double casting; one set of actors comprise the "The Blighters" cast, another set the "The Hotheads," and a combination from both form "The Spacemen." This wonderful cast being reviewed: The Blighters.
Wonderful how Stangl has directed all to play their gender-reversed, age metamorphic and color blind roles straightforward with no attempts to use stereotypical traits. The result being the actors' actual talents really shining through. Bravo, Ms. Stangl!