Whether it’s a nation or a body being colonized, there are always repercussions. Those repercussions are the meat of Caryl Churchill’s funny, thought-provoking and far-too-smart Cloud 9, currently in production at Big Idea Theatre. Directed by local legend Janis Stevens, this version of Cloud 9 undermines everything you ever thought you knew about sexuality, sexual identity and self-aggrandizing colonial excess.
The first act, set in an unnamed area of British East Africa during the late 19th century, offers up the ostensibly ideal British colonial family: Father Clive (Jerry Kennedy, in a mutton-chop sideburned perfect turn), a governor and empire-worshipper; his unhappy wife Betty (Benjamin T. Ismail, in the first of several gender-bending twists); his even-more unhappy son Edward (Elizabeth Holzman); an unhappy governess (Gina Harrower); a proto-feminist neighbor (Ruby Sketchley); a repressed gay colonial adventurer (Clay Kirkwood); a “close your eyes and think of England” mother-in-law (Linda Moltalvo); and, unhappiest of all, a native servant (Eason Donner).
Just when you think it can’t get any weirder, it does. Churchill’s genius is in seeing the act of oppressing other people as the result of repressed humanity, and it’s usually sex that bursts out of the seams before being shoved right back into its straitjacket in the most painful way possible. In one particular scene between the British boy and the subjugated African, we see the power of power to destroy us as we use it.
The second act, set in 1980s London, has the ensemble shifting roles but still constrained by expectations, roles and yes, more British mansplaining than anyone should ever have to bear. What emerges is a complex, hilarious and boundary-stretching dialectic between our ideas about necessary order and our natural inclination toward messiness in life, gender and love.
Cloud 9 is perfectly cast, with an ensemble that gels seamlessly; the direction is top-notch; the set, by Cameron Rose and Lauren Wolf, is remarkable; and the costuming—especially the use of military tones for mufti dress in the first act—designed by Samantha Nakagaki is fantastic.
In short, Big Idea has once again erased the line between a community and a professional production, and in doing so, lived up to their name. Don’t miss this show; you’ll regret it.