Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Heather Cross
At the Lowell House JCR
Through this weekend
THERE'S an old Monty Python sketch in which a man meets a policeman in a park and tells him his overcoat has been stolen, but he didn't see who took it. Both men realize there's little hope of ever finding the coat, and they stand around for a few seconds in silent resignation. Finally, one asks the other, "Do you want to go over to my place, then?" The other responds affirmatively, and both leave. End of sketch.
Sound funny? No? Maybe, if you've never seen it before? Well, imagine seeing variations on that same sketch over and over and over, and you will have some idea how excruciating Cloud 9 is.
If Cloud 9 can be said to have a plot--a mighty big "If"--it exists only to carry the play from the jokey sex scene or pick-up scene to the next. Every character is to some degree obsessed with sex. The problem is that the characters are at the same time confused about their sexual identities. Some are secretly homosexual or bisexual, some are secretly adulterous, some secretly share one or more of these traits and some display them openly. To further confuse things, some of the actors and actresses cross-dress to play people of the opposite sex. Almost sounds like a Pudding show.
In the first act, the characters are members of a supposedly repressed 1880s British family in colonial Africa. The Big Joke, I suppose, is the shameless promiscuity behind the family's stiff-upper-lip facade. So what? Imperialist Victorians aren't exactly a daring target for satire. They are no harder to make fun of than, say, 1980s yuppies.
Good idea, thinks playwright Caryl Churchill, and presto change-o, in act two, the characters, having aged only 25 years, find themselves as 1980s yuppies. How novel. The difference is that since sexual repression--compared to today's morality---is a thing of the past, the first act's primary source of humor is gone. (The characters are still sexually confused, like effeminate homosexual Edward, who discovers he likes women and comes up with the laughable line, "I think I'm a lesbian.") Without the humor, Act Two becomes deadly serious and agonizingly ponderous.
I feel sorry for the show's seven talented actors, who are called upon to play universally unlikable characters. In Act Two, they all switch roles (some switch sexes), and although the characters have aged so much since Act One that they are essentially different people anyway, the actors as a group make an effective transition from the light and silly first act to the whiny and petulant second act. But I feel sorry for Molly Hoagland, who has to stand erect and keep a straight face while Trig Tarazi hides and busies himself beneath her skirt, and for Celia Wren, who has to deliver a somber soliloquy about how, as a middle-aged divorcee, she rediscovered masturbation.
I feel sorrier still, though, for anyone who has to sit through a show that includes not only moments like these but two renditions of the vastly overexposed Pachelbel Canon. Sex in art is usually erotic, titillating, or at least funny, but in Cloud 9, it is none of the above.