“Cloud 9” brings a story about gender, identity and family

(Photos taken by Amy Rose/Fourth Estate)

Carola Patty Gorena Morales, Staff Writer

“Cloud 9″ invites audience members into the life of a complicated family dealing with timeless issues.

The cast and crew of “Cloud 9” is preparing for the performance of this enticing comedy that will take place in TheatreSpace from Wednesday, Feb. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 28.

Madison Landis, a theater major and the director of the play, said that what is great about these characters is that they are in fact terrible and absurd people, but the audience can expect to be completely “sucked in, and stay along for the rest of the uncomfortable ride.”

Written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, “Cloud 9” gives a portrait of a dysfunctional family confined by societal standards none of them can live up to. With dry British humor and wit, the play shifts between 1880s British Africa and 1980s London. The actors also shift roles and don’t always play their own gender. The play first premiered in 1979.

“It’s a play about societal pressure, gender roles, homophobia and colonialism. It views these big issues through the lens of  the 1880s to the1980s. So the audience is going to see how far we’ve come as a society and how far we still have to go,” Landis said.

Although “Cloud 9” was written almost 40 years ago and part of it is set in the Victorian era, its characters address concerns of identity in a way that is relatable to the audience.

“You can empathize with them,” said Brandon Lock, a freshman communication major who will play Harry, an explorer visiting the family as well as Martin, the daughter’s husband in Act II. “A lot of the characters struggle with what society wants them to be, and that’s not necessarily what they want to be. They are always striving to be something more than themselves,” Lock said.

The play will also raise questions of how gender should be defined. “Caryl uses gender swap especially in Act I to show the absurdity of gender norms and expectations,” Landis said. “A female character is played by a man to show the crazy expectations for women, especially in the Victorian era.”

One of these characters is the wife and mother, Betty, played by sophomore theater major, Nathan McGraw. In approaching this role, McGraw says that he doesn’t focus entirely on the gender of his character. Instead, he looks into the mentality of the character, “thinking more about who the individual is and what they are trying to search for in this play.”

The play includes sexually explicit scenes that, from the outside, might seem to challenge actors. But Landis directs the cast in a way that allows the actors to feel safe while staying true to the meaning of the play. Before rehearsals started, Landis spoke with actors about what they were comfortable with, making clear that the play features explicit material. Later, when slight tensions arose during rehearsals, Landis had actors “hug it out” and the mood would immediately lighten.

“That’s all you have to do!” said Lock, “Just making sure that everyone is on the same page. You go in and make the scenes as believable as possible, while making sure everyone is comfortable and safe.”

No matter what scene actors are working on, the mood remains warm and unworried in the rehearsal space. “This is such a wonderful team, it’s a really trusting environment that we’re allowed to push the limits and see what works and what doesn’t in a safe space,” Landis said.

The actors are not only tasteful about how they play explicit scenes, but also do everything with artistic intention. “A lot of those scenes, explicit or not, serve a very, very specific purpose,” Lock said. The shock and awe that arise from the explicit scenes, the sexual confusion, the shift in roles and the absurdity of the characters force the audience to face uncomfortable yet important societal issues that have remained prevalent through the years.

“An audience should come in expecting to be challenged, ready to laugh at themselves,” Landis said. She added that the play will explore what it takes to be a real man or woman, what it means to be gay or straight and “how ridiculous society is to think that you could be any other way except for your true self.”