This month, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance unveiled its stage production of “Cloud Nine,” an unconventional play about untraditional desire, directed by Anne Torsiglieri.
Written in 1979 by British playwright Caryl Churchill, “Cloud Nine” initially follows a British family struggling to adhere to the Victorian ethos while living in colonial Africa in 1879. In the second act, however, the narrative moves forward 100 years to London in 1979, where the same characters continue their quests for self-identity amid the various social upheavals of the time.
Rather than make the acts feel disjointed, the play’s peculiar sense of time — where 100 years of social progress appears to age the characters only 25 years — works perfectly to complement each of the characters’ journeys. In fact, the narrative’s unorthodox temporality is one of the play’s strongest components.
However, the timeline is not the only thing altered between acts. As per Churchill’s writing, the cast both tradeoff roles and embody new ones in the second act. Remarkably, the cast handles the transition seamlessly. Dylan Hale (taking over the character of “Edward” from Allie Granat) and Hasmik Anna Saakian (taking over the character of “Betty” from Hale) manage to bring a new understanding to the characters they adopt while remaining true to their earlier incarnations.
The entire cast’s performance (Hale, Saakian, Granat, Garret Ward, Brittany Carriger, Brian Allan Bock, Hasmik Anna Saakian and Andrew Fromer) is top-notch. Every actor is completely believable in each of their roles — no small feat considering the play also calls for several of the characters to be played by actors of the opposite gender.
Also impressive is the production’s set design, which far exceeded any of my expectations. Particularly striking is a large tree made of wooden planks that lingers hauntingly in the background during both acts.
“Cloud Nine” being a period piece, the characters’ struggles with identity and oppression still resonate in our times. By tackling such provocative themes with a darkly comedic approach, “Cloud Nine” manages to be both thought-provoking and humorous. As directed by Anne Torsiglieri, “Cloud Nine” is a superbly acted, wickedly clever romp well worth the price of admission.
After the matinee performance last Sunday, the director and cast participated in a Q&A session moderated by the Queer Student Union. While acknowledging the diversity of the play, Torsiglieri discussed the need to remain true to Churchill’s writing when developing the production.
“Nothing makes me crazier than when I see a production where the gay or lesbian characters dance around their passion and their love for one another,” said director Torsiglieri. “It’s good to push the envelope and celebrate all kinds of love and all kinds of struggle.”
Held at the Performing Arts Theatre, the production will be shown at 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, with an additional matinee performance on Saturday. “Cloud Nine” concludes it run on Nov. 12.
Be sure to catch this wonderful performance by your talented peers while you can.