CAST OF "CLOUD 9" PHOTO BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON
Whether you are familiar with sexual politics, unconventional mores or confusing genders, playwright Caryl Churchill is happy to provide you with lessons in the form of farce and satire in her radically different play "Cloud 9" being served up on a silver platter at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, March 19. Be forewarned that Churchill's "Cloud 9" should not be confused with the traditional definition that means a state of perfect bliss and happiness, a euphoria if you will.Churchill has divided her play into two distinct parts, Victorian colonial Africa where the natives are restless and capable of cannibalism and the extended family of Clive and Betty reside uneasily. Act II takes place in London in 1979 and supposedly only 25 years have passed. Get out your scorecard and take notes. Clive, a loyal British subject, controls his household with rigidity. Mark H. Dodd's Clive exists in a world of oppression and repression. He holds strong views on marriage but that doesn't stop him from carrying on a dalliance with a neighboring widow, Mrs. Saunders, a faint of heart Sarah Lemp, who also does double duty as the governess Ellen.Ellen cares for the children Edward, an identity confused Mia Dillon, who likes dolls and Victoria, who is played by a doll. Edward also likes the adventurous Harry Bagley, the courageous Chandler Williams, who manages to juggles relationships with the young lad Edward, Clive's wife Betty, who is played by a man, Tom Pecinka, and the black servant Joshua, William John Austin, who is played by a white man. Overseeing all this sexual misidentification is Betty's judgmental mom Maud, Emily Gunyou Halaas.All this frustration explodes even more in Act II where some of the previous people reappear in a new liberated form. Check your playbill for the details. It's London 1979, in a park, and some of the symbols reappear, like dolls and decadence, guns and games and a gold necklace. British society has released its Pandora's box of secrets and the mismatched alliances are now out in the open and ready for inspection. Women and gays give energy as the search is on for that most elusive and desired quality: happiness. Corset restraints are loosened. The same actors appear but in a different guise. Occasionally even members of the Victorian era pop in for a brief visit. Churchill clearly wants to challenge the traditional roles of society and encourage accepting people for who and what they are. Elizabeth Williamson directs this unconventional exploration of the many forms of sexual relationships and marriages and the changes locked therein.For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.Be open minded and lavishly liberal as Caryl Churchill indulges in an intense exploration of the ending of sexual repression.