Clive protects his family from his fears of the world by instilling his white, heterosexual, male, morals in them. Betty, his wife, tries to fulfill Clive's narrow views but is never fully content in the position. Edward, their son, conceals his homosexuality. Clive's world is shattered when Harry, Clive's friend, mistakenly comes on to him. Clive stifles the disease by marrying Harry off and is murdered at the wedding by Joshua - Clive's black slave who is the first character to break from Clive and assert his own identity. Twenty-five years later, the children are gown up and Betty has finally left her husband; all three struggles to define themselves apart from Clive. Prompted by her lesbian friend, Victoria (Clive's daughter) leaves her husband and moves in with her and Edward. In experimenting with sexuality and allowing for the opportunity to define herself, Victoria finally comes to a point where she has a sense of who she is after spending time suffering in doubt like her mother in act one. Her understanding allows her to leave both her husband, brother, mother, and lesbian friend, to start her own life as an individual.
Cloud Nine is one of the most important plays written in the past twenty years. Its dramatic form and gay themed-topics paved the way for Tony Kusner's Angels in America and thrust its playwrights Caryl Churchill into the world's spotlight. It was Angels in America that changed many of our ideas of modern drama and what it can do but Cloud Nine is a very important part of that legacy. Angels in America has gone on to become a very successful television mini-series which really seem to capture the drama and the spirit of the story. Cloud Nine, however, has continued to live, grown, and remain relevant, on the stage.
The action starts in Victorian Africa where we see how the English values oppressed women and homosexuals. Churchill then fast forwards to the 1980's but only ages the characters 25 years. By doing thus she is able to show how the produces of oppression still manifest today. Using double casting that includes gender bending, Churchill makes us really think how we perceive individuals both as a society and how we as individuals judge others.
Take a moment to read this play again and think of everything you read as new and innovative. Like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, compare it in your mind to everything that came before. Think about how it changed the theatre that followed.
Happy Birthday (September 7): Elia Kazan (1909-2003)