If you are not totally obsessed with sex, this play isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you want to see some of the best acting in town, this is definitely the play to see.
The seven actors from the Antaeus Theatre Company are beyond wonderful. And with each of them having sex with every one of the rest of them, that makes about three billion permutations, logarithmically speaking. But not to worry. It’s mostly verbal, not physical.
It’s “Cloud Nine”, written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Casey Stangl. First performed at the Joint Stock Theatre Group at Britain’s Dartington College of Arts in 1979, it went on to London and then to New York, where it won a 1982 Obie Award for playwright Churchill, another for director Tommy Tune, and a third for performer E. Katherine Kerr.
The first act, which opens with a roaring musical tribute to merry old Victorian England, sets the mood and the pace for what is to follow. It’s the 1870s in the wilds of darkest Africa, where Bo Foxworth, as Clive, is the British administrator of this “barbarous” colony, ruling with the grandiose mantra “We’re not in this country to enjoy ourselves!” He is accompanied by his “thoroughly English wife, Betty” (Bill Brochtrup, in a beribboned frock and corset), her mother, Liza de Weerd, their son Edward (Gigi Bermingham), Clive’s African “boy” (John Allee), the nanny and neighbor (Abigail Marks), and the explorer (David DeSantos), who drops in to woo Clive’s wife Betty, their son Edward, and anyone else who strikes his fancy. Oh, and there’s the baby daughter, Victoria, who is played by a floppy rag doll.
It’s not difficult to keep track of the characters as they romp around the stage uttering witticisms, having old-fashioned picnics, and playing hide-and-go-seek. What is confusing is keeping track of the many themes active in that period and equating them with themes that are still prevalent in this century: racism, anti-feminism, white privilege, and the smothering condescension of those in power to those who aren’t. As well as the implied acceptance, at least by the playwright, of gender variations: casting men as women, women as men, and having them all kissing and flirting and taking themselves seriously.
In the second act the themes are played out again, but it’s 100 years later and the characters are all scrambled. Bill Brochtrup, who played Betty in the first act, is now Edward, her son, all grown up and struggling with his homosexuality. The rag doll, Victoria, Edward’s sister, now a lesbian with a husband and son, has been transformed from Clive’s mother-in-law, Liza de Weerd. And the pompous Clive, the mustachioed Bo Foxworth, is now a bratty five-year-old girl.
Complicated as it is, the story somehow makes sense and confirms that change is never easy, obvious, nor permanent. Though some may appear to have achieved a semblance of freedom in this later century, the world itself remains much the same, filled with people who are self-absorbed, xenophobic, and indifferent. And it’s just as difficult as it’s ever been to know and be true to whoever it is you may become.
“Cloud Nine” is “partner-cast,” which means that all the players are replicated by a different group every other night. The group I saw was “The Blighters,” but given the quality of the Antaeus players, I’m confident that the other cast, “The Hotheads,” is equally wonderful.
“Cloud Nine” will be playing Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 24 at the Antaeus Theatre Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets, call (818) 506-1983 or go online to www.antaeus.org.