Close Your Eyes and Think of England: “Cloud 9”

Cast of “Cloud 9”
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Presented by the Nora Theatre Company
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner
Voice and Music direction by Caitlin Gjerdrum
Dramaturgy by Sophie Gore
Text and dialect coaching by Allison Olivia Choat

June 6 – 30, 2019
Central Square Theater
Cambridge, MA
CST on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Warning: this post contains spoilers. The spoilers are necessary to the conversation.

Trigger warnings: child abuse, mentions of domestic violence, racism, sexism, creepy dolls

Satire: (noun) sat·​ire | \ ˈsa-ˌtī(-ə)r
Definition of satire

1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly – Per the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

(Cambridge, MA) Satire doesn’t have to be funny. Most satire is funny, but it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Much of comedy is found funny because of its treatment of serious topics. For example, jokes about the Boston Str8 Pride Parade* will get a laugh in some situations. In other situations, the jokes don’t land because this parade represents unadulterated hate towards the LGBTQ+ community. We understand why your jokes are “funny,” but it’s our lives those neo-nazis are protesting. The protest might be funny if it were satire – But it isn’t. It’s real. We’re real too. 

I mention this because the themes that Caryl Churchill attacks in Cloud 9 are real too. Heteros still think that the LGBTQ+ community is asking for extra protections. People of Color (POC) are being massacred in the US for their audacity to take up space. These things aren’t funny but jokes about them can be if told properly. Cloud 9’s themes are still relevant.

Churchill writes funny moments into Cloud 9 but the show isn’t necessarily a comedy. This can be confusing for some viewers. My estimation is that it was for the two individuals who left halfway into Act 1 of Saturday night’s performance. All sorts of toxic stereotypes are examined in the script’s first half but it wasn’t until a gay male was revealed to be a pedophile that the viewers left.

It is unfortunate that they did leave because Cloud 9’s second act portrays this gay character as a loyal father figure of great generosity and compassion. That is what Churchill does with every character in this play; she exhibits negative character assumptions of yore to explain how these assumptions were excuses to otherize human outliers for their perceived sins. These excuses are still used and actively hurt us all. Social mores may have evolved over time but human beings have essentially remained the same… Anyway, Everyone knows that it’s heterosexual, white, adult men* who commit the majority of sexual abuses*.

Act 2 discusses the 1970’s sexual liberation movement that followed the 1960’s Women’s Rights Movement. It is a reflection of the first act. Both acts offer reactions to the same predicament: what happens these characters attempted relations with someone society disapproved of? It’s not nearly as funny as Act 1 but the characters are much happier. After the events of Act 1, the characters deserve happiness in Act 2.  

All of this critical folderol is significant because one cannot appreciate the work done by the cast and crew of Cloud 9 until these things are understood. My perspective isn’t the correct one perse but it helped me get through the show. There is a lot of show to consider.

The acting is excellent. Cloud 9 is a packed two hours and forty minutes. The cast doesn’t lag; they keep up the pace. Time flies while the audience is misunderstanding Churchill’s intentions. It’s exemplary work in a beast of a play. Aislinn Brophy, Stephanie Clayman, Joshua Wolf Coleman, Marge Dunn, Kody Grassett, Sophorl Ngin, and Alexander Platt should be very proud of their work. I can only imagine the courage it must have taken to face this script on a daily basis, to confront the limiting beliefs of the past as well as our current. Thank you for your service to the greater good!   

The lighting design of Whitney Brady-Guzman enfolds the cast like a halo in the first act, and dapples around them in the second. The wigs are wonderfully atrocious. Perfect for an unfunny satire like this. Choat’s accent work was grand. 

Cloud 9 is about the happiness we’re told we’ll experience if only we adhere to the impossible standards society sets for us. It has more sexual plot twists than reality TV. I urge all comers to read the director’s note by Lee Mikeska Garder and the dramaturgy note by Sophie Gore. Both will help audience members grapple with Churchill’s script. Cloud 9 isn’t easy to digest but the reward is worth the struggle.

Harry Bagley is similar to BAGLY, the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. It is an organization that makes the world a better place through youth empowerment. Please learn more HERE.

*I’m not going to link to those degenerates. Google that ish yourself.  

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