Sunday, 4 October 2015

Caryl Churcill's CLOUD 9 at the Atlantic Theater Company

     Well, half of CLOUD 9.
      Five years ago, James Macdonald directed Mike Bartlett's terrific play COCK at the Royal Court Upstairs in London, then later recreated the production with a better American cast at the Duke on 42nd Street. For that production Macdonald turned the theaters into makeshift wooden ampitheatres, temporary theaters-in-the-round. The production was minimalist -- no furniture, no props, plain lighting. This worked for COCK. Now Macdonald has used the same approach for his revival of Caryl Churchill's 1979 play, CLOUD NINE. COCK was relatively short. CLOUD NINE isn't, and in an uncomfortable, cramped hot space, it seems even longer. The poor lady next to me took ill and there was no way for the poor dear to get out. This sadistic seating wasn't at all justified by a poorly directed production.
     CLOUD NINE is Churchill's satire on British sexual mores. It was written at the beginning of the Thatcher era. The first act is set in colonial Africa in the Victorian era. A man in drag plays Betty, the unhappy Victorian wife; a woman plays Betty's gay son. The native servant is played by a white man. The characters may spout Victorian values, but underneath the language there is sexual chaos. The imposition of conventional morality is particularly evident in the marriage of a gay man and a lesbian that ends the first act. The sex/gender order must be maintained at any cost. The second act is set in the present (1979) and shows the confusion beneath the new sexual revolution. Until now, I have always found the first act to be amusing; the second act to be tiresome.
     A revival of a play can demonstrate its flaws as well as its virtues. Despite an able cast, this revival had no tempo. The first act of CLOUD NINE has to move quickly. It is farce, after all. This sluggish production in an uncomfortable space made one aware how repetitive that first act is. It seemed to go on forever. There were long pauses that certainly aren't written into the script. I have never heard so few laughs during CLOUD NINE's first act. It isn't the cast's fault. Clearly this one is down to the director.
     I was not the only person to leave at the intermission.
CLOUD NINE. Atlantic Theater Company. October 4, 2015.

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