Cloud Nine

by Jim Farrar
American College Theatre Festival 1987

The play Cloud Nine, written by British dramatist Caryl Churchill and Portland State’s offering, has been described by past critics as biting social satire, a “devastating attack on sexual stereotypes.”

In it sex roles are reversed, men play women’s parts and women play men. Churchill fiddles around with time, making a century pass between acts, though for her characters only twenty five years elapse.

Though frequently funny, Churchill’s concept eventually starts to wear thin and by the middle of the second act I was asking myself “why is this woman hitting us over the head with all this?” The play is essentially a comedy but there’s a lot of anger beneath the surface.

That being said, let it also be said that there is much about the play that makes it well worth seeing.

Director Jack Featheringill has done a fine job of putting this show together. Script aside, this play looks and sounds good.

The cast, which really does seem to rise above the material, does at least an admirable job of trying to make some sense of Churchill’s play.

Especially effective is David Titzler, in the dual role of Betty/Gerry. He plays a woman in the first act and a homosexual in the second act. In both instances he never hypes, nor does he ever seem to parody, his character. As a woman he uses his own voice, but his manner is such that he makes a believable woman, though we’re still very much aware that this is indeed a man playing a woman. Titzler makes sure that Churchill’s joke is not lost on us.

The set, too, is efficient. It’s not as effective as it could be however. Set designer Stephen M. Zapytowski, Sr. Has created what is essentially a series of bluish-gray slats that run parallel to one another over the entire state. In the first act, they represent the African veldt during the 1880's and, in the second act, they become modern London.

Though the set moves the play along from scene to scene in a businesslike manner, there’s something claustrophobic about the way it is arranged, like rolled up bleachers in a high school gymnasium.

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