Sexual Liberation Is Good. Then What?
by Allan Appel | Jan 23, 2013 4:32 pm
Posted to: Arts & Entertainment, Theater
Here’s the scene as you enter the darkened Iseman Theater on Chapel Street: You hear drumming that might be of a military band. Or of those proverbially restless natives.
The stage is divided into three sections that look like dioramas from a natural history museum. But the mammals to be observed are not lions or elephants. They’re bipeds in pith helmets and rustling Victorian dresses.
They’re dead all right, but they’re about to come alive in a spirited revival of Cloud Nine, British playwright Caryl Churchill’s bravura send-up of all things Kipling and colonial.
Welcome to the energetic production by the students of the Yale School of Drama of Caryl Churchill’s 1981 groundbreaking play, which opened Tuesday night for a short run.
Its first act unfolds like Rudyard Kipling on cross-dressing steroids using every cliche of the colonial playbook——protect the neurasthenic weak-brained women, teach the natives a lesson, effeminacy is contagious, stiff upper lip, man —to parody the policewoman-of-the- world politics of Thatcherite England.
The second act ages the actors 25 years—then time-travels them a full century to 1980s “swinging” England. There, through the magic of theater. they live out the sexual proclivities that they’d suppressed long ago in Africa.
The governess is now a gay woman raising a 3-year-old child on her own. The child is now baby Cathy, about six feet tall; she has a mustache and bears a remarkable resemblance to Clive, the British colonel of the first act.
The repressed but utterly obedient wife Betty of Africa, in London (presumably), divorces her husband and gets liberated by finding a job in a doctor’s office. She earns money for the first time in her life, and, even better, teaches herself to masturbate with aplomb, which she demonstrates.
The servant Joshua has presumably lived through generations of Christianization to liberate himself to become what is in effect a homosexual predator. And so the second act lifts the hem very high up on British sexual stuffiness of 30 years ago with a troubling outrageousness.
With American troops still in Afghanistan (roll the video of Gungha Din), the first act still feels supremely relevant.
With President Obama hailing the Constitutional protection of gay love on an equal footing with the heterosexual variety, the second act’s tour of sexual liberation of the 1980s variety feels a touch dated.
Yet both acts, performed by an energetic ensemble of young Yale actors, are a hoot.
The play is a love song to the sexual hijinks of Restoration comedy Charles Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous, and Chris Durang’s satirical pranksmanship, with a lot more of Churchill’s feminist (at least for its time) political punch.
To Churchill’s great credit, as the Union Jack descends on the first act, there is a suggestion that only if people were allowed to have all the erections and orgasms they want, with whomever and however, then life would be grand.
The second act, in which much of that is allowed, is much darker, less funny, and, in patches, deeply moving.
As your laughs subside, the play seems to leave you with a downright existential ache: namely that sexual liberation is a good thing. But then what?
You still have to figure out which job to take, how to put raising your children before your own needs, and then, before you die, it might be a good idea also to figure out who you are.
Farce, as playwriting teachers often remind their students, works only if the target of the hilarity is deadly serious. Churchill’s is.
Cloud Nine‘s brief run lasts through Jan. 26, with tickets available through the Yale Rep, 432-1234.
Post a Comment
There were no comments