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Review: 'Cloud 9'

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It’s always interesting to see a play that was considered daring and controversial at its premiere with thirty years of hindsight. Does the latter dull The Edges of the former?

With Caryl Churchill’s 1979 play the answer is yes, but it doesn’t really hurt the piece. Mostly because Could 9 is a theatrical experiment. A farce, with transsexual casting, it works best as a showcase for both the director and the cast.

 

For this production, the director Alisa Palmer has assembled a top-notch cast drawn mainly from the companies of the Shaw and Stratford Festivals (they have to do something during the winter!) They very obviously relish the chance to cut loose with such an offbeat piece.

The structure was heralded in its day for presenting a group of characters first in the sexually repressed 1880’s, and then 100 years later in the somewhat more liberated late 20th Century. The gimmick is that though a century has passed, the characters are just 25 years older.  

The play remains very funny and at times downright lewd. The first half remains a total delight offering pithy comments on human sexuality as seen through reserved Victorian eyes. The second half has lost a lot of its punch since its premiere, and at times it seems to meander, losing focus. Yet every time things start to pall, Churchill pumps it up with a provocative monologue or dialogue.  

It’s the cast that helps keep things on track here and a better cast could hardly be imagined.  David Jansen in his best head-of-the-family attitude portrays Clive, trying to keep order and decorum for his family while indulging in some very improper behavior with a neighbor. In the second half, he has a field day as the unruly four-year old girl, Cathy.

Evan Buliung creates two very distinct characters, spending the first half in a tightly corseTed White dress playing Clive’s wife Betty, only to emerge in the second act as their bisexual son Edward. 

In a different crossover, Megan Follows has a few moments to shine as the governess Ellen trying unsuccessfully to repress her lesbian urges, only to emerge in the second half with a well rounded portrayal of the out and proud dyke Lin. 

Ann-Marie Macdonald gives two of the evening’s best performances, first as the youthful Edward just beginning to discover his sexual orientation, and later as the mother Betty who in the final scene tells us about her own experiences discovering the joys of making love alone.

For a play so wrapped up in its character’s sexuality, there is surprisingly little heat. The characters go through the motions for little more than their own pleasure. Churchill may be trying to make the comment that over 100 years the basic primal urges have not altered, but the point is unproven by the text.

This leaves Palmer with little room to maneuver in the second half, once the shock value has been utilized to its maximum potential.

Still, with a cast this strong, the play is well worth investigating. 

 

Cloud 9 continues at the Panasonic Theatre until February 21. For tickets and performance schedule go to: http://www.mirvish.com

 

 


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From This Author Mark Andrew Lawrence

Mark Andrew Lawrence began his broadcasting career as music director for St. Catharines radio station CHRE. After six years there and eight years at classical (read more...)