CSU Theatre to Stage British Comedy Cloud Nine

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Audience members can watch as characters, imprisoned by inhibitions, break free and explore unexpected roles in the next Columbus State Theatre Department production, the British comedy Cloud Nine.

Playwright Caryl Churchill’s work comes to the CSU Theatre on the Park Mainstage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 19-21 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22.

Directed by professor Becky Becker, the play’s first act satirizes the late-19th century British Empire and the repressive nature of the Victorian family. The second act shows what could happen when the restrictions of both the genre of comedy and Victorian ideology are loosened in a more permissive society.

Churchill often employs a before-and-after sequence to communicate her message. For instance, Cloud Nine’s first act takes place in colonial Africa in the 1880s, while the second act is set in London in the late1970s. “But according to Churchill, only 25 years have passed for the characters,” Becker said. Mature themes, particularly those related to sex and gender identity, shape the play as it demonstrates how “attitudes and moral codes of the colonial Victorian era continue to impact contemporary attitudes.”

Can comedy achieve such a thing? Becker thinks so. “Comedy can often be the best vehicle to encourage thoughtful engagement with serious topics,” she said. “Comedy helps the audience let its guard down and possibly even examine ideas from a perspective they wouldn't normally see or try to understand.”

This exploration of identity is what Becker likes most about the production. “I think we are rather confused, culturally, when it comes to sex, in particular,” she said. “We don’t really want to talk or deal frankly with the topic of sex, yet we use sex to sell everything from shoes to cigarettes to cars.”

Becker believes Churchill is addressing many related contradictions.

Also an ensemble play, Cloud Nine’s characters collectively represent the themes of the production. In the first act, a man plays a woman, a woman plays a young boy, a white man plays an African, and one character is played by a “dummy” or doll. In the second act, a man plays a four-year-old girl, and one character, a young boy, is talked about but never actually seen.“These casting requirements are integral to the play and the ideas that Churchill explores,” Becker said. ”Each of the characters undergoes a journey to figure out where they fit, in terms of sexual and gender identities.”

Becker said her student actors enjoy the challenge of working with difficult material.

As for viewers, Becker said audiences shouldn’t shy away from Cloud Nine because of its mature themes as it has much more to offer. “Well, first, it’s very funny — both in a slapstick, music hall sort of way, and in a witty way,” Becker said. “I hope audiences will take away a new or more nuanced appreciation for how far we have come and how far we still have to go …. It pokes fun at the way we, as humans, treat sexual identity, especially.”

Becker also hopes audiences find the play “wildly entertaining.” Among her favorite scenes is a disco performance choreographed by student Richard Frazier and added to the beginning of Act 2.

Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $13 for seniors, children, active military and CSU alumni and free for CSU faculty-staff (limit two) and students (limit one). For more information, go to http://theatre.colstate.edu or call the theatre box office at 706-507-8444.