CLOUD NINE, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Araxi Arslanian, Shane Carty, James Greenwood, Anna MacKay-Smith, Andrew Pifko, Carly Street and Eric Woolfe. Presented by Equity Showcase at Harbourfront Centre's Studio Theatre (235 Queen's Quay West). Runs to October 22, Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday matinee 2 pm. Pwyc (suggested $8). 533-6100. Rating: NNN
Is she or isn't he? The question could well be asked of the characters in Cloud Nine, Caryl Churchill's marvellous 70s gender-bender, complete with generous dollops of gay and anti-racist themes. I worried that the piece might have dated over the decades, but Daryl Cloran's strong production for Equity Showcase Theatre proves its enduring power.
The play, whose first act is set in 1880s Africa and the second in London a century later, featuring a family who age only 25 years, takes a sharp look at colonialism, socially defined male and female roles, feminism, homosexuality, lesbianism and what makes a relationship work.
Farcical tone The first act has a farcical tone, while the more realistic second goes for an emotional strength that's quite touching.
Cloran manages the script's shifting tones beautifully, but not all the actors are up to their dual characterizations, alternately biting and achingly human.
Best are Araxi Arslanian as Maud, a comical dowager mother in Africa, and later as Lin, a sensual lesbian mother in London, and James Greenwood as the wide-eyed, sexually repressed Betty and also Edward, her gay son who wishes he were a lesbian.
The other performers are more variable in defining their roles, though there's good work from Andrew Pifko and Eric Woolfe.
How unfortunate that Anna MacKay-Smith offers little depth as the young Edward and needs more dramatic weight for the London Betty, separated from her patriarchal husband and discovering her own sexuality.