Director Seth Honerman brought interesting ideas regarding gender roles in his production of “Cloud 9” which ran Sept. 18-21 at the Andreas Theatre. While the play prompted laughter, the theme of unboxing the self and standing up against societal norms runs deep in each scene and character.
In an article from the Free Press on Friday, Honerman shared why the project had intrigued him. “I was drawn in by the gender and sexuality themes which are still at play today,” Honerman said. “The gender and sexuality kind of goes hand in hand. By Victorian standards, it wasn’t really important to talk about sex and the exploration of the body, so to play to that (the writer, Caryl Churchill) poked at gender roles.”
Betty is first introduced as a man, Ryan Christopherson, who is a BFA.
“There are so many layers to Betty that take quite a few rehearsals to fully figure out,” Christopherson said of his experience in playing as Betty. “The first act also takes place in 1880, so there’s the difficulty of making sure my posture and physical movement around the stage would be appropriate for both the character and the time period.”
What strikes me about “Cloud 9” is not only the complexity of a person but the historical society’s unhealthy view of marriage roles. Throughout the play, men—especially Clive (Trevor Belt)—refer to women as the weaker sex since they allow themselves to be controlled by their emotions. But the hypocrisy is that the men overreact just as much, but they deflect their actions on women because the men want the power.
The only way that they believe they can maintain the order is for them to psychologically, emotionally, and mentally abuse their wives and children.
Although Clive had an affair with Ellen, who he claims as a friend and who has lost her husband, he deflects his actions onto Betty after he found out from his slave Joshua (Braden Joseph) she had indulged in a kiss with Harry. “Cloud 9” shows the historical power men wield over their households. For instance, Joshua has witnessed how Clive treats his household so he mocks Betty when she asks him to get her knitting needle by stating she has legs of her own that she already does plenty with.
From the start, the audience knows that Edward (Megan Fischer) is gay and plays with dolls while Clive mocks him for it. Clive constantly admonishes Edward that his classmates will not want to play Cricket with him if he doesn’t relinquish his His “uncle” Harry, Zac Gaulke, also fascinates him after they engage in “play” themselves. That scene address the complexity of sexual orientation and gender with an adolescent, Edward, who is trying to figure themselves out and looks up to Harry as prospective role model.
Act II brings the audience 25 years into the future, when Betty has become a grandma and is then performed by Megan Fischer.
By that time, Betty has observed different behaviors in her own lifetime and how those lifestyles develop into a society of its own, and, at the same time, is growing more into what may be considered “normal” society. After all these years, she has reached a point where it is most important to first accept yourself so that you can also, in turn, love and accept others.
Christopherson added, “There’s a fairly significant tonal shift from the first act to the second, which was very new for me. Act I plays very farcical and is shocking with some of the subject matter, but I think that perfectly prepares the audience for the realism and honest conversations that are had in act II.”
In my opinion, what zakes a play or a movie is its closing scene, since that is the part that will stay with the audience and keep them thinking about the story long after it has ended. I loved when Fischer stared into space while her memories replayed in her head, with Christopherson and Belt returning onstage. Betty was looking into the past and realizing how far she had grown in her life as revelations struck her. What is most important is when she stated that she also realized that she was her own person, and that she shouldn’t allow no relationship with anyone else to define her.
“I was really touched by the character development in this show, especially with Betty and Edward,” Christopherson concluded. “Hearing Betty’s monologue at the end of the play gives so much insight into her mind and how she’s felt all these years in this family.”
I believe the biggest lesson that any audience member can and should have learned from viewing Cloud 9 is to face who you are and embrace yourself with courage. Sometimes the self-awareness is tricky, since society still has its own expectations of what we should be as people.
Even if you are still in the process of self-discovery, I have learned from Betty that is honorable to stay true to yourself, no matter what anyone thinks or says.
Header photo courtesy of the Department of Theater.