Dramashop delivers hyperbolic Cloud Nine@ByName:
Written by Caryl Churchill.
Directed by Jayme Koszyn.
Presented by MIT Dramashop.
Kresge Little Theatre, Feb. 8-10 & 15-17.
By MARK ROBERTS
IN CLOUD NINE, Colonial Africa is taken as the epitome of a repressive society, where all the "Victorian values" of chastity and duty are in full effect. Beneath the surface acknowledgment of these values seethes a sea of distress and suppressed passion. The head of the family, after flogging a few stable boys, is seen with his head up the skirt of a local widow; his son and wife both love the heroic explorer, who himself casually goes out to wile away the time before tea with the servant boy in the barn. . . . The scenario is a kind of baroque cartoon version of the British Empire.
The cast play to match. Clive (Babeck Amini '92), the bullying head of the family, was overbearing and loud. Betty (Peter J. Parnassa '90), his wife, was particularly manic, straining and twitching with the energy of someone forced to sit all day and "wait for men." The two handled their exchanges together well, the one hearty, the other brittle: "Were you all right today, dear? No hysteria, no fainting?" "Yes, thank you, I was very tranquil."
The finest performance was given by Michelle P. Perry '89, as the little boy, Edward, who "finds it very hard to be all a man should be," preferring dolls to the soldierly pursuits his father encourages him in. Perry used the surreptitious sideways glances of the child to good effect in her scenes with Craig E. White '93, playing Harry the explorer, whose bed Edward longs to run to.
The production as a whole showed signs of good direction. Jayme Koszyn kept pace and precision throughout the action, which is sometimes farcical. One of the finest pieces of business was the slow retreat that Clive makes from Harry. This occurs after his hymn to the joys of "friendship between men" has been mistaken as a paeon to homosexuality where, using a succession of chairs, big and little, like those of the three bears, he erects barricades between them. The major drawback of the direction was that it left too little to be picked up by the audience on their own, preferring to draw attention to all ironies and hypocrisies in exaggerated expressions or tones of voice.
In the second act, the structure of the old society has collapsed, but the characters still entrap themselves in stereotypical behavior. Betty, the wife, reappears, now played by Joanna L. Kulik '92. She proves to be in some ways the most admirable character of all, rediscovering the self that was so long suppressed in service to husband, queen and empire.