Staged in the round, Cloud Nine tells the story of sexuality; coming to terms with it, acting out on it and what “roles” we must play in relationship to the time period. Set in two different time periods, the play’s first act takes place in colonial Africa. We subsequently meet the family, one by one, and realize that most actors are playing the opposite sex. The story continues, very soap opera-esque, in which most of the characters are love someone that time period believes they “shouldn’t”. From the neighbor, to the husband’s best friend, to the little boy (yes, statutory rape), the characters go through an exploration of their sexual desires finally arriving at their sense of honor, duty and what society deems is “right”. Most is presented with a comedic tone, with the action happening so fast you forget to stop and think about what you are watching. In other points, the play drags on and has such verbal diarrhea you have to stop and think about what you are watching, essentially missing the next point, since you are too busy figuring out the last.
According to the script, the second act brings the play forward in time 25 years for the characters, however it is set almost 100 years later in physical time. We see the characters have grown up and now the children are going through their own sexual exploration; what is means to be gay and sexual freedom in the 1970s. While the same set of actors play the characters in the second act, they are now played by different people, which causes some confusion. The writing has the first set of characters visiting the characters of this time period near the end of the second act in an ethereal echo to the past. This proves for some nice moments in which we see the connection to the past and how the present characters have become the person they are because of that connection.
While there were some nice chances for the character’s connections to the past to be solidified through the casting, director James Macdonald missed the mark with most of them. We were often left wondering “who is this person and what is their purpose?” However, the stand out performance goes to Brooke Bloom. As Edward, we see her as the young boy struggling with what it means to be a man in colonial times, his sexuality and his place in the world. As Betty, we see her after she has left her husband, struggling what it means to be a woman without a man. We watch her go from dutiful wife in the first act to the present character who is free to make her own money, do as she chooses and masturbate as many times as she would like without feeling guilt. The echoes from the past really knock it out of the park with this character as she is visited by her mother, who gives her guilt and the final moment visited by her younger self in which nothing is said, but with just a look, you understood it all.
Cloud Nine is currently playing through Nov. 1st at the Atlantic Theater Company, Linda Gross Theater. The stadium seating built to support the show in the round, although cushioned, can get quite uncomfortable for this lengthy play. The seating is also a bit short, so anyone over 5’4” is cautioned to buy an aisle seat. Note that there is no late seating or re-entry. It is also suggested to wear a light layer as the 100+ lighting package really heats up the intimate space.
Review By: Renee Demaio
Photos By: Doug Hamilton