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RTP’s Cloud 9 Travels Through Time, Challenging Gender Roles Along the Way

Actors portray multiple characters of multiple genres, during multiple time periods.

Ryan Persaud | October 10, 2017

It’s 1880. In the Victorian era of British colonial Africa, everyone has something to hide. Being in a relationship with someone of the same sex is punishable by death. Those who identify as LGBTQ live in secret, under constant fear of violent patriarchy. The gender roles are reversed; women are played by men, and vice versa. The injustices of colonialism are a dark undercurrent in the age of blatant white supremacy.

Jump to 1980. London, England. Although the play advances 100 years, the characters only age 25. While still extant, the threat of patriarchy is less dramatic. Women and LGBTQ individuals have more agency, being more open to express themselves and to be with the people they love. Gender roles are restored; men who played women at first now embody male characters, and vice versa. The effects of colonialism and white supremacy, however, are still present.

This is a play called Cloud 9, which is currently being performed by the Richmond Triangle Players. In addition to being part of the organization’s 25th season, the play is also running under the “Our Theatre, Our Stories, Our Lives” program, which aims to highlight influential works in LGBTQ theatre. The play was written by Caryl Chruchill, and is being directed by Rusty Wilson.

Wilson said that no changes have been made to the play, which originally premiered in 1979, due to the fact that the themes it explores are still relevant today.

“I think it’s an ongoing evolution of what it means to be equal in the world, and particularly in the United States,” Wilson said. “I feel like with all of the racial, the gender issues, the questions about serving in the military, the LGBTQ community, I feel like this is a really interesting play to look at now and realize that it is not dated, that these are still issues that, I think, in a global way, we deal with.”

Wilson saw the play in its original run, and said that it had stuck with him since then. As soon as he learned that the Richmond Triangle Players were interested in the play, he jumped at the opportunity to direct.

“I really enjoy watching the play. I enjoy what it makes me think about, what it makes me question,” Wilson said. “When I look through the filter of this play at our world today, I think it’s got some interesting things for us to contemplate, and will hopefully continue to push us in a more human and a more loving direction.”

Laine Satterfield, who plays a 9 year old boy named Edward in the first act and a former wife of a colonizer named Betty in the second act, said that Cloud 9 feels like two different plays. The first act is more farcical, while the second act is more dramatic. “Two totally different characters, the two acts are very different,” she said. “Plus you have the different dialects, plus you have an almost farcical style – and yet it’s all rooted in honesty.”

Matt Bloch, who plays Betty in the first act and Jerry, a gay man, in the second act, said it was a challenge to play characters of different genders.

“Being a male, I wasn’t trying to put any sort of harsh expectation on any either of the characters,” Bloch said. “Instead of playing a woman, I am just being myself as I would be in those circumstances if I were a woman. The honesty comes from not trying to play at anything; I’m honestly reacting in the circumstance, and I’m not trying to impersonate or belittle anything.”

Satterfield agrees with Wilson that the play remains relevant long after its original premiere.

“I think it’s more relevant now than it was when it was written in the early 80s during the AIDS crisis,” Satterfield said. “All of those things we’re still dealing with – how to be decent human beings, truthful human beings and not be ashamed of who we are, or judging other people for their choices or their sexual identity. I think the beauty of act 2 is that you see the growth in these characters and they’re opening their minds. I think that’s something we all need to do in 2017.”

Bloch said that the reception of the play has been generally positive, with some audiences members being left somewhat confused about the play’s ending.

“People kind of look at you a little sideways because the show doesn’t resolve a lot of questions, but leaves the audience with some questions,” Bloch said. “That is something that people are sometimes uncomfortable with, but I think that in the end, that’s a positive thing. I’m always okay with leaving the audience with some questions.”

Cloud 9 is currently playing at the Richmond Triangle Players theatre and will continue until October 21st. More information on the play, including show times and where to purchase tickets, can be found at the Richmond Triangle Players website.