Thursday, May 23, 2013

REVIEWS: I'm Falling from LLC's "Cloud 9"

The Lower Columbia College (Longview, Wash.) production of "Cloud 9" is a time-shifting British African comedy by Caryl Churchill. Both parody and spoof of the 1880s Victorian Empire and its rigid attitudes towards sex. The play shifts twenty-five years later to London in 1980 where all the characters' repressed sexual longings have evaporated along with the British Empire.

That's the official description, and no I didn't make an error with the dates or math. If it's confusing then take that as an indication of how the play will be, too.

The Play

I did not like this play. There were things I liked about the performance/ production, and I'll get to those, but for now I will address the writing. It wasn't that good. Yes, there are moments when the dialogue is quite real or humorous, but there is also a great deal of "nothing." Let me explain:

The material is not plot driven, nor is it strongly character driven; it is issue driven. I surmise this play was written to deliver a message--an agenda--or, possibly, to shock and push cultural boundaries. While each person must decide with their own conscience and convictions what they wish to pursue as entertainment, publicity materials should have carried a warning of some sort about the content, so people know what they're getting into. I'll close off this review with a summary of that material.

The Players

Overall the performances were well directed and offered with confidence and skill. The cast seemed comfortable with their roles and the things required of them. Most of the cast played dual parts in two different time periods and did quite well at developing two different personas (which were sometimes of opposite gender) with one exception.

Timothy R. Laughlin, whose delivery in Act I fit the character (wonderfully dry, droll and British) went unchanged and didn't work for his Act II character. The company notes read of Laughlin: "I'm not acting in this play, Don [Correll, the director] told me to just be natural." Seemed to have worked in Act I, didn't in Act II.

Standout performances were given by Nathan Clark as Clive, Shae Coleman as the boy Edward (also quite good as Victoria) and Diane Krane truly shined as Lin. Coleman, especially, has a very expressive face and is a fine actress. However, it was Wendy Howard-Benhem who shone brightest among the stars; her performances were (while some of the most uncomfortable of the play) superb. Dante Huffines was also amusing as Cathy.

The Production

The simple set was dull and unimpressive. I didn't even like the colors. It would have worked better with less. But the play isn't about the set. Costumes were fine, some were exceptional, others merely served. Overall technical production qualities were down from the usual high quality (maybe end of the year budget scrapings?) I've come to enjoy at LCC. The one exception was the lighting, which was impressive in design and execution.

A nearly perfect illumination by Donald A. Correll (also the stage director) with interesting and well-timed cues. The overall look include the right balance of down to front lighting with a good use of a limited color pallet (amber, nc blue, lemon yellow, daylight blue and highlights of red and a bit of green). Texture was used nicely at times and the two British flags were lit in a number of ways to dramatic affect.

The Precautions

The publicity materials should have come with a cautionary statement; something to the effect of "Warning: Explicit Content." I believe this is a responsibility when material and content of this kind is presented especially when no refunds are offered. If this were a film it would have garnered an R rating simply for the extensive use of the F-bomb, if not for other reasons. Here's a listing of content with which some might take issue:

Extensive and sometimes detailed sexual dialogue. Sensation is described during a simulated (under a skirt) act of oral sex; masturbation is frankly presented as a good thing; and embracing same-sex, both sex, multiple sexual partners and orgies are presented as satisfying and good. There is also much innuendo, though most things are discussed out-right. Other swear/curse phrases/words are used sparingly, but not the F word, which was pervasive. There is fondling of breasts (clothed), same-sex kissing, cross dressing, the use of slang terms for sexual body parts and suggested incest. There is also some suggested Eastern religion and possible drug use suggested within the orgy scene (which, surprisingly, is not presented sexually). Surprisingly, everyone remains dressed.

The Purchase 

The play runs now through May 25 and 30, and June 1 and 6-8. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance from the LCC Bookstore in the Student Center, at Encore Concession in the Rose Center, or from the online ticket store. Tickets may also be purchased one hour before performances at the Rose Center Box Office. General Ticket Prices are $8 for adults, $7 for Seniors and are FREE to LCC students, faculty and staff, and children 12 and under. Location: 2323 Washington Way, Longview, Wash.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler

The Following Review is by Dennis Sparks:

Identity Crisis

This play is labeled as “a hilarious look at sex and gender.” I found it neither funny (nor comedic), nor a serious look at sexual identity (especially Act I). There is no story as such in the first Act. It takes place in the 1880s during the British rule of South Africa. It is a scenario (and possibly comment) on the [sexually] repressed society of the Victorian Age.

It is, then, a ‘story’ of relationships. Now let’s see if I can keep this straight. In the first Act, Clive (Nathan Clark) and Betty (a male, played by Robert Loren) are married, but Clive is having an affair with Mrs. Saunders (Wendy Howard-Benhem), a widowed neighbor. Meanwhile Uncle Harry (Timothy R. Laughlin), who has been out in the wild too long, is having secret dalliances with Clive’s young son, Edward (a female, played by Shae Coleman), as well as Betty, Clive’s wife, but eventually marries the governess, Ellen (Susan Foytack), who also has a thing for Betty. And Betty’s mother, Maud (Diane Krane), doesn’t seem to like anyone. And a black tribesman (played by a white male, Dante Huffines), a servant, seems to have the hots for everyone. There, I think I’ve covered everyone. Confused? Join the crowd.

To make a comment about the Victorian Age being repressed is unnecessary, as that phrase alone stands for repression in most people’s vernacular. So, if one would wish to do a comedy on it, one should take the examples of Monty Python and do it broadly, as a farce. But the situations are delivered almost straight with a dry humor, at best. Doesn’t work. This is not the fault of the cast, who are quite good, but in the writing and/or interpretation. So, throw the first act out the window and proceed to Act II.

Act II takes place 100 years later (with the same cast of actors). [Editor’s Note: 1979, though it’s actually 25 years later due to some time-shift thing. Try not to be confused.] This time we have a comedy-drama format, which works much better. We have Lin (Diane Krane), a lesbian, who has a young daughter, Cathy (played by a male, Dante Huffines). Victoria (Shae Coleman) is having an affair with Lin, but is also married to Martin (Timothy R. Laughlin). Victoria’s brother, Edward (Nathan Clark) is in a relationship with Gerry (Robert Loren). And their mother, Betty (Wendy Howard Benhem) is just plain lonely. Again, a bit confusing, but played ‘straighter,’ with a large dose of drama thrown in to equal the humor.

It seems there are two distinct styles evident here. Had it been played that way it might have worked better, especially Act I. The first Act did get its share of guffaws from a select section of the audience, but it appeared it was because they were laughing at their friends in drag on the stage, instead of any actual humor from the play. Much of the audience was quiet. The second act fared better, as there was more meat to the story.

The set (Robert Cochran) was simplistic but, I suspect, was intended that way to go along with the cardboard or cartoon-like interpretation of the production. The lighting (designed by the director, Donald A. Correll) was quite good and the costumes (Jennifer Cheney) seemed appropriate for the periods. The director chose a good cast, but the conflicting styles between the two acts was jarring.

The cast were all very good and must have had a challenging time portraying, in most cases, two distinct characters. Coleman was especially good in playing a precocious boy in one segment and a sexy mom in another. And Huffines had an equally challenging reversal, playing a native African in one and a little girl in the other. Both excellent, as well as the whole cast.

I cannot recommend this play. The first act, as mentioned, I found boring and humorless and totally the wrong style for this sort of play. The second act is better, but the two acts don’t seem to sync as a statement of any sort. Also it might tend to offend a lot of people with its language and adult situations, as well as its depiction of the Brits [Editor’s Note: Which I thought was the funniest part of the show].

By Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

1 comment:

  1. It is unusual for Dennis to be so hard on a show and go so far as to say he does NOT recommend a show. lol