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South of the border, down Mexico way

I'm not a particular fan of the plays of Caryl Churchill, a playwright whose purpose is to explore and then explode a number of conceptual entities such as colonialism, patriarchy, sexual stereotyping, etc. The UVM Department of Theater brought Churchill's 1979/1980 play "Cloud Nine" to the Royall Tyler Theatre recently.

The play takes place in colonial Victorian Africa during act one and the London of 100 years later, for the characters it is only 25 years later, during act two. As she is wont to do, Churchill has a good deal of gender-bending in the casting, even going so far as to have a character played by a man in act one (Betty) and by a woman in act two and there are other characters whose casting is identical to this.

In addition, there are same-sex liaisons and other somewhat shocking (to the original audiences, since the Wolfenden Report was only 11 years old at the time that Churchill wrote the play) depictions. To the modern audience - at least to the modern audience on the night I saw the play-all of these elements have lost their edge, although same-sex kissing can send a frisson born of watching naughtiness through an audience.

The production is superb, quite simply superb. The ensemble cast has obviously paid close attention to its director, Sarah E. Carleton, who is a gifted actress, especially in the area of drawing room comedy, comedy of manners - and don't think for a moment that this play is not about manners and about drawing rooms. In fact, the play, as acted by the ensemble, is a wonderful example of a drawing room comedy. It matters not how much of the background history of the generation of the play has seeped into the actors' realizations of their characters, it is never front and center, and on the night that I attended, a monologue in the second act actually proved to be quite cathartic for me. You don't generate catharsis through gender-bending, or so it seems to me.

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