IS THE PAST A NEW PRESENT? | Caryl Churchill’s Britain on the verge of Thatcherism

NEW YORK CITY |  Gender politics. Sexual identity. A household on the outskirts of the British Empire in Africa. Those ingredients forces us to ask squarely of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine:  Has or has not this farcical 1980s play long meted out its usefulness?

Atlantic Theater Company’s New York revival of Cloud Nine, which opened October 5, 2015, serves to renew the play’s fresh relevance. Directed by James Macdonald, Atlantic Theater Company’s limited engagement features actor Brooke Bloom, Sean Dugan, Lucy Owen, Chris Perfetti, John Sanders, Izzie Steele and Clarke Thorell.

Chris Perfetti and Lucy Owen in “Cloud Nine” | Photo by Doug Hamilton

When Cloud Nine premiered in 1979 at Dartington College of the Arts, near Devon, England, homosexuality had been decriminalized by Parliament only a dozen years earlier. There are many remarkable and surprising things in Churchill’s landmark play — it’s a funny, fantastical study of the burdens placed upon us by expectations, and whether they can ever really be thrown off.

But perhaps most remarkable is to consider how its gleeful gender- and orientation-bending — men play women, and women play men; a Victorian explorer is revealed to be gay and a Victorian matron considers lesbianism; a modern Londoner frankly discusses a gay tryst, while his once-and-perhaps-future boyfriend ends up in a happy menage-a-trois home with his bisexual sister, her lesbian partner and the two women’s children — would have been received in a Britain on the verge of Thatcherism.

The original Cloud Nine toured England, then ended up at the Royal Court. It came to New York in 1981 for an off-Broadway run (directed by Tommy Tune) that played for two years. The play returns in its first major New York revival at the Atlantic Theater Company.

Set in colonial Africa and 1979 London, Cloud Nine is about power, politics, family, Queen Victoria and sex. This timeless and bitingly funny modern classic has not been seen in a major New York production since 1981, when it ran for over two years.

Several decades later, its outlook, if not quite its circa-’79 fashion, feels entirely current as an examination of gender and social roles and broad-minded, matter-of-fact sexuality. It remains intriguing, if no longer quite so subversive. — randy gener


Cloud Nine will begin previews Wednesday, September 16, officially open Monday, October 5 and play a limited engagement through Sunday, November 1, 2022 Off Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20 Street).

Cloud Nine will feature scenic design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Gabriel Berry, lighting design by Scott Zielinksi, sound design by Darron L West and casting by Telsey + Company.


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