Thursday, March 1, 2007

Shocking! Hilarious!

Eric Rhea & Katherine Bickford in CLOUD 9
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Rave Review

"Raunchy, Shocking, Hilarious"

From the Eureka Times-Standard review by Meghan Vogel:

"British playwright Caryl Churchill's “Cloud 9,” performed with aplomb by the HSU Department of Theatre, Film and Dance, is a true farce for the postmodern age. Ironic and self-conscious, gender bending and sardonic, “Cloud 9” is a multi-layered exploration of sexual repression, intergenerational dynamics and changing social mores...

Director John Heckel said that after 30 years, while the didactic ideology has gotten more complex, none of the material of “Cloud 9” is dated. While Heckel did update Act II from 1970s/80s London to 2007 London, and replaced the conflict in Northern Ireland with the war in Iraq, Churchill's daring and witty “Cloud 9” remains as fresh as ever...

At a little more than two-and-a-half hours, “Cloud 9” teeters on the edge of jam-packed overkill, yet never becomes tedious, due solely to the polished, professional and seasoned actors, all of whom are a joy to watch. Each actor shines as they take on their unpredictable character roles to lay the groundwork for their next surprise twist, which they all manage to pull off naturally.

Not the least of the actors' superb talents is the ability to grasp a British accent, both the stilted Victorianese of the 19th century and the lilting urban middle-class accent of contemporary London. Belief is indeed suspended, and the audience truly transported, since it isn't necessary to cringe at the sound of a badly done British accent.

Perhaps more importantly is that the actors are all totally believable in their gender, and even race, bending roles. Each character, whether gay, straight or bi, is made to be androgynous either through mannerisms or visual devices. Heckel made two major cast changes for HSU's production of “Cloud 9” to reflect the complications of updated gender conflicts. Katherine Bickford, a very blonde female, plays Joshua, the black servant who is played by a white male in Churchill's version. While Joshua has the fewest lines of any in Act I, Bickford is wholly believable as the unsmiling and slightly sinister Joshua. In Act II, Martin, the seemingly neo-feminist husband, is played by Missy Hopper, who easily transforms into Martin as to be almost unrecognizable as the same actor who played a crotchety old widow in Act I.

Tisha Sloan is an impressive delight as she quickly switches from the character of the shy Ellen to the liberated Mrs. Saunders in Act I, and in Act II gives Victoria real profundity. Erik Rhea shines as the comical Betty in the first act, as well as the grown-up and sexually confused Edward in the second act. Sarah Daum, Alex Gradine and Calder Johnson complete the cast, and each is compelling in their respective roles.

HSU's large crew of design and production staff is reflected in the fanciful and intriguing set design, which must double as a colonial home in British Africa and as a playground in London. Lovely paper lanterns suspended from the tall ceiling and colorful plumbing pipes add a heightened sense of the hodge-podge of post-modernity. Great costumes also contribute to the play's overall aesthetic."

Last chance to see CLOUD 9: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 1-3 at 7:30 PM in the Gist Hall Theatre!


A play about sex, power and gender that has managed to remain relevant and controversial for 30 years---you'd expect some, shall we say, differences of opinion.

There are a few on this site in the comments, just under the photo at the top of the February 11 post, which is a couple of photos down from here. You're welcome to join the fray but remember--obscene and abusive comments will be deleted, or at least cleaned up!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sarah Daum: Gender images in CLOUD 9
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Cloud 9: Origins

The Possibilities of Change

From The Plays of Caryl Churchill by Amelia Howe Kritzer:

"Max Stafford-Clark originally recruited Churchill for a play about emigration to America that was to be produced cooperatively with Joseph Papp's Public Theater in New York. When funding for this project fell through, Churchill proposed the focus on sexual politics. To research the subject, Churchill and Stafford-Clark decided to begin with personal experience. Workshop participants were therefore selected on the dual basis of acting experience and sexual perspective; the resulting group included male and female representatives of various heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles...

"During the research period, in addition to hearing guest speakers and sharing books, each member of the workshop took a turn to tell her or his life story and answer questions about personal sexual experiences. Led by Max Stafford-Clark, the actors participated in improvizations based on social status and social norm-breaking."

Why the Victorian Era Act I

"As Churchill explained in a 1983 interview, two important themes which emerged from the workshop formed the background of these choices:

'We explored Genet's idea that colonial oppression and sexual oppression are similar. And we explored the feminity of the colonized person...Also people had talked in the workshop about their childhoods and what they had expected they would be like as grown-ups...Each person felt as if he or she had started from a Victorian perspective and had, in their lifetime, discovered the possibilities of change.'"

[From pages 111-113]

Cloud 9: A View

"Equal Opportunity Humor" on Caryl Churchill and Cloud 9 is posted at the Stage Matters blog.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Erik Rhea, Katherine Bickford and Calder Johnson rehearsing
Act II of CLOUD 9.Posted by Picasa


Clive is a stalwart official of the Empire, soldiering on in darkest Africa with stiff upper lip and rationalizing eyes. Betty, his wife (played by a male), struggles to stand by her man, Queen and country, through loneliness and inconvenient longings.

Joshua is their black servant (played by a white woman) with his own conflicts and secrets. With Edward, the son who plays with dolls (and who is played by a woman), daughter Victoria (played by a puppet), a mother-in-law, a widow, a governess and a bisexual explorer, the family struggles to uphold the imperial standards with the required hypocrisy… and then it all falls apart in a cross-gender bedroom farce, with the bite of a multi-generational tragedy.

And that’s just the first Act.

[text continues after photos]

Katherine Bickford, Calder Johnson, Tisha Sloane and Sarah Daum
depict the gender-confused contemporary family in Act II.
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CLOUD 9 skips ahead in Act II to the contemporary city, where familiar members of the post-liberation young, educated middle class try to cope with changing mores and consciousness, clouded by the sobering spectre of the war in Iraq, in a comedy of gender manners very relevant to the world we live in today.

Generational issues, from children to an elder’s perspective, and how values are transmitted and can change, are also part of the human comedy presented with the theatricality of one of the world’s most respected contemporary playwrights.

Tisha Sloane as Victoria
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British playwright Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed comedy of gender politics first appeared in the late 1970s, with its first American performance in the early 1980s. Since then it has become a classic, performed in regional and university theatres across America and in other parts of the world.

“I’d always been fascinated with this play,” director John Heckel says, “going back 25 years or so.” But would it be relevant to today?

“One of the first things I did was to look at the play to see if any of the material is dated, after almost 30 years. I discovered that none of it is—nothing that relates to the themes of gender identity, homosexuality, Lesbianism, how generations affect each other, colonialism."

While Act I in Churchill’s script and in the HSU production is set in late nineteenth century Africa, Heckel had to decide whether to keep the Act II timeframe of 1970s/80s London. He chose to change a few references to make it contemporary to today. “The only change I made in the script was to substitute Baghdad and Iraq for Belfast and Northern Ireland.”

He did this because the fundamental issues are still the same. “The arguments have gotten more complicated, but otherwise I thought the play really does a remarkable job addressing the issues of gender and sexuality of today.”

Lin (Sarah Daum) teaches her daughter how
to shoot straight.
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Partly because of that greater complexity, and partly to make the best use of the available talent pool for this production, Heckel made two changes in how the show is cast.

“If it’s gotten more complicated, how do I reflect that?” The answer was casting Joshua, the black slave in Act I, not with a white male as called for in Churchill’s script, but with a white woman. And in Act II, the role of Martin, “the New Age male” as Heckel describes him, “the husband who talks about believing in feminism more than his wife does,” is played by a woman in the HSU production.

At HSU, Heckel has directed Paula Vogel's Learning To Drive, and both parts of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, among many other plays, including Brecht's Mother Courage last spring. He is retiring from teaching in the HSU Theatre department this year, but for the past several years he has pursuing an advanced degree in psychology. His dissertation is on gender identity, so Churchill’s play is a natural.

Issues of racism, sexuality and their relationship to political power are also interwoven themes. “With Churchill, there’s this funny, stylized, very theatrical surface, but underneath there are primal expressions of what we continue to do to each other through the generations.”

Audiences should relate to the action and attitudes and “the generational issues in the play,” Heckel feels. Though there is strong language, sexual situations and the proviso of “For Mature Audiences,” “this is the work of a mainstream playwright. This isn’t obscure.”

Cathy (Calder Johnson) turns her toy gun on
Edward (Eric Rhea).
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Our Cast

Edward/Lynn: played by Sarah Daum
Betty/Edward: Erik Rhea
Harry/Gerry: Alex Gradine
Maude/ Martin: Missy Hopper
Joshua/ Betty: Katherine Bickford
Clive/ Cathy: Calder Johnson
Ellen &Mrs. Saunders/ Victoria: Tisha Sloane
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Our Production

Director: John Heckel
Set Designer: Jody Sekas
Lighting Designer: Jim McHugh
Costume Designer: Rae Robison
Make-Up Designer: Corrie Barr
Sound Designer: Evan Wrye
Musical Scoring & Guidance: Missy Hopper

Prop Designer: George Shaw
Technical Director: Jayson Mohatt
Assistant Director: Joe Castro
Stage Manager: Sydney Carlisle
Assistant Lighting Designer: Andrew Schnell
Assistant Set Designer: Amanda Lordell
Costume Shop Manager: Cathrine Brown
Costume Shop Graduate Assistants: Renee Carney, Genneveve Hood
Graduate Shop Supervisors: Kato M.T. Buss, Kristen Hoffman, Justin K. Takata
Undergraduate Shop Supervisor: Evan Wrye
Properties Master: George Shaw
Light Board Operator: Patrick Sullivan
Sound Supervisor: Glen Nagy
Sound Board Operator: Rachel Brink
Wardrobe Mistresess: Renee Carney, Becky Parker
House Manager: Daniel Gibson
Crew Chief: David Abrams
Mason Lev
Saqib Keval
Ryan Hall
Rachel Brink
Mychel Ducken

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Playwright Caryl Churchill
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Coming Soon!

Caryl Churchill's CLOUD 9, directed by John Heckel, will be performed at Humboldt State University's Gist Hall Theatre on February 22-24 and March 1-3.

More information will be appearing here soon.