The last time a major production of Caryl Chuchill’s Cloud Nine was seen in New York was in 1981 so I was very pleased to catch the revival at Atlantic Theater Company. This lovely, touching performance is running through November 1st, and I do think it’s worth your time.
Cloud Nine was a popular play to study back in college, especially in my Contemporary British Feminist Playwrights class when I studied abroad in England. How does one sum up this play? It’s about family, love, and sex. Even more so, it’s about oppression and putting people in boxes, forcing them to meet certain expectations, particularly gay people and women.
The first act is set in colonial Africa during the Victorian era, and then the second act jumps forward to 1979 in London. However, the characters have only aged 25 years, something my older seatmates across the way had a little trouble grasping, but don’t worry, we talked it out during intermission. This storytelling twist provides a unique opportunity to view this set of characters in two contradicting worlds, yet ironically, the standards and expectations of society seem not to change much between the two time periods. And as we watch this in the year 2015, we find that the topics of LBGT rights and feminism are just as ripe.
Cloud Nine is point blank and subtle all at once. It’s controversial and ordinary. It’s goofy and serious. Done in the round, this production, directed by James MacDonald and featuring a smart, excellent ensemble, accomplishes just what I think the play intends. I would love for you to go and tell me what you see. Do you think it makes a point? Do you think the point has been made before and it’s becoming trite? Or is this old play still bringing something new to the table?
The older folks sitting by me asked, “Is Caryl Churchill a feminist?” “Yes,” I replied. “Ohh, did she hate men?” I hope they are able to come away from this piece recognizing that those are two different things.
Note: the seating is not very comfortable. The bleachers that were constructed to allow for a more intimate, in-the-round performance are not ideal. The Atlantic is encouraging audience members to bring a pillow or small cushion to make their seat more comfortable. Usually I’m the first to complain about bad seating (my back issues makes me an easy target), but I did okay! It’s not a reason to skip the show.
Written by Caryl Churchill, Directed by James MacDonald
Atlantic Theater Company, Closes November 1st
Photo Credit: Doug Hamilton
Pictured: Lucy Owen and Chris Perfetti
There are few things I enjoy as much as seeing a good new play and then talking about it the entire commute home. And I don’t mean just talking about what we liked or didn’t like, or the design, or even the acting. I mean, talking about the play – diving deeper into the ideas it touched on. I love when the conversation continues after the lights come back up.
The playwright Bruce Norris wowed me (plus a few Tony voters) with Clybourne Park a couple seasons ago, so when I heard he had a new play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse up at Lincoln Center, I bee-lined for Linctix to buy myself a ticket. Not to mention it’s directed by Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County) and starring Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf. It’s called Domesticated, and I do recommend checking it out.
Now I don’t want to give much away because I think the play raises some very interesting questions, and they’ll sound a whole lot smarter in the context of the play than me trying to paraphrase them here. I will say that it is a piece about gender, politics, (gender politics?), betrayal, morality, and the concept of men versus women, in all respects really.
A politician, Bill (Goldblum), is introduced. He is at a press conference confessing to a crime, resigning from his post, and his wife Judy (Metcalf) is at his side. The Good Wife, anyone? Bill is surrounded by women in his life. After that first speech of his, he is primarily silent for the remainder of the first act. It’s fantastic to watch. He is talked over and practically trampled by these women (his wife, his daughter, his lawyer, etc.). But boy does he start to talk in Act 2.
What’s incredibly impressive about the “men versus women” conversation that Norris brings up is that in one moment I found myself fully on Judy’s side, but at the same time, I was eagerly awaiting Bill’s rebuttal. This (male) playwright manages to represent both sides/genders quite effectively. Bill can be incredibly misogynistic and sexist at times, but then in the next moment, I actually find myself sympathizing with his character. But then he opens his mouth again. It helps that Goldblum’s trademark way of speaking keeps things lighter and more casual than they might typically be.
As the plot unfolds and we watch Bill’s fall from power, there are some nice surprises along the way, great laughs, smooth set changes, clever plays on media and marriage, and a really strong ensemble to tell the story. Overall, I would say that if you enjoy going to the theatre to think, I highly recommend Domesticated. And after that? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Written by Bruce Norris, Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Lincoln Center Theater through January 5th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Jeff Goldblum