On the evening of November 9th, 2016, the Florida State University School of Theater staged Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9at the Lab Theater. Churchill’s play is one that challenges gender expectations and heterosexuality in a patriarchal society, which is the expected message audience members came to hear. And, that is exactly the message the actors and actresses delivered in every line of their dialogue. What one might not have expected from Churchill’s play, however, was the underlying comedic tone able to be given to the dialogue; but, the special attention to comedic tone that the actors and actresses gave to some of their lines coupled by the more serious, audience hushing moments in the play allowed for a night that celebrated the liberation of men and women’s sexuality.
Jae Courtier played the roles of Mrs. Saunders in Act 1 and a Soldier in Act 2 and unarguably carried the night. In Act 1 the audience encountered Courtier’s Mrs. Saunders holding a riding crop and making sexual advances on Clive (played by Alec Ruiz), which Clive only encouraged, even going so far as to call Mrs. Saunders “voracious.” In Act 2, Courtier’s role of the Soldier – aka Lin’s late brother – left a hallowing quiet in the theater when previously the audience was full of laughs as Lin (Macy Lanceta), Victoria (Kariana Sanchez), Martin (Derek Grose), and Edward (Shane Howell) had been attempting to have a drunken orgy. Courtier’s expertise is getting the audience to laugh in Act 1 and be suddenly taken aback in Act 2 was a wonder to watch.
The Director (Sarah Lucas) and Assistant Directors (Ashley Brooks and J.T. Timmons) need also be commended for their work on this play. The decisions they made at the end of each act stayed true to the heart of the play. At the end of Act 1 there were two points of closure: the first when the lights dimmed and a spotlight lit up the central portrait of a family, the second when the actors and actresses came back on staged and maneuvered to take off and redress pieces of each other’s apparel. Lighting up the portrait of the family gave emphasis to the fact that familial roles had been constantly reinforced and challenged in the previous scenes. And, by having the actors and actresses help redress each other they played active roles in physically changing one another’s identities. At the end of Act 2 the audience witnessed a younger Betty (played by Shane Howell) holding onto her present and more powerful self (played by Erin McNellis) while Clive (Alec Ruiz) stood at the back of the stage and watched his wife in the forefront of the stage struggle to regain her bodily autonomy that had been repressed in her marriage to Clive by her husband, her family, and the society at large that surrounded her. Down to minor details, Lucas, Brooks, and Timmons presented a polished and powerful show.
No matter what twisted ideology an individual is fighting against in life, and right now in America there are a lot of them – namely racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. There is hope to be found in productions of plays such as Cloud 9that speak out against the repression of human rights. Churchill’s second wave feminist play is still relevant today and the FSU School of Theater’s production is not something to be missed. Yes, it is edgy and provocative even for 2016, but through this unbridled energy the actors and actresses and the production staff took the freedom the script allows for and staged a memorable show with messages that bleed into audience members’ everyday lives.
Cloud 9 is still running at the Lab Theater and you can purchase tickets at the door so don’t miss you opportunity to see it on Nov. 11th – Nov. 13th. For more information on the play visit the FSU School of Theater’s website at http://theatre.fsu.edu/our-season/performance-season/