Caryl Churchill’s play Cloud 9, playing at the Panasonic Theatre, is often billed as a “gender-bending comedy.” In fact, I think that may be selling it a little short.
Gender isn’t the only thing at play here. Women play men, adults play children, white actors play black characters and vice versa, and two people play one person. On paper, it would seem like audience-goers would need a map to follow along, but Churchill’s wit is sharp and clear, and director Alisa Palmer skillfully interprets the script.
Cloud 9 takes place in two settings. The first is 1880’s colonial Africa, where a British family lives amongst “savages.” The second act moves to 1980’s London, where the same characters appear again. The time passage is metaphorical, but the neuroses they’ve brought with them are real.
Take Victoria. In the 1880’s she’s played by a faceless doll, carried and cooed over by the governess. Is it any wonder she can’t make a decision as a 1980’s adult (played this time by Yanna McIntosh.) Betty, the family matriarch, is another carryover character. In the first act, Betty is the unhappy but dutiful housewife. In the second she finally seems to have found some sexual liberation, even if it did come 100 years later.
My partner for this show was none other than Mooney on Theatre herself – Megan! She enjoyed the show as much as I did, stating “Caryl Churchill is brilliant. What more can you say?” She, like me, found the time jump a little perplexing, but not enough to detract from our overall enjoyment of the show. I believe Megan’s words were “I wasn’t clear on the gap at first, but I also can’t really imagine it working any other way”. Judging by Megan’s contagious laughter throughout, I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t much she didn’t enjoy about Cloud 9.
It would take far too long to list, let alone review, each of the multiple characters performed by the seven actors in this play, but rest assured there is not one weak spot among them.
I was fascinated by how well Ann-Marie MacDonald and David Jansen captured the mannerisms of their child characters. (So was Megan.) Evan Buliung, as Betty 1.0, makes such a beautiful and composed woman that I feel a little like I need to go to finishing school myself. And Megan Follows does a fabulous job in the first act doubling as a meek governess and a ballsy divorcée. (Her character control was great, and the poor woman had more costume changes than a model at Fashion Week.)
Cloud 9 also has one of the better web sites I’ve seen for a Toronto stage show. There are video interviews with the cast, rehearsal photos and Twitter updates. Check it out, and then check out the play. You might even see me there a second time.
Performances run until Feb. 21, 2010 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street.
Showtimes are Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.
Tickets range from $30-55. Tickets are available by calling 416-872-1212, or online
Student tickets available for $20. See the Mirvish site for details.
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