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Cloud 9 – The Blighters Cast  (Antaeus Theatre)

Antaeus has done it again:  taken a modern classic (that does seem antithetical, when you stop to think on’t) and brought it fully to life. Caryl Churchill’s 1979 thoughtful comedy, “Cloud 9,” amazingly directed by Casey Stengl, is a wondrous piece about power, in the way we deal with gender and with race – both of which remain in our faces today.

As ever, Antaeus has double-cast it, always a pleasure to view. This cast is “The Blighters.”  Its two acts are set one-hundred years apart, although for the characters only 25 years has advanced.  (Worry not; it makes sense.)  Act One, in 1879, is in some unnamed British African colony, wherein the white characters fear the black natives and each other. And Act Two is in London in 1979, where the same characters are now played by other actors – played in the “correct” gender. And don’t worry about following it; it’s all perfectly simple and perfectly presented.

In the first act, Clive (Bo Foxworth), a Colonel in the British army, lives with his wife, Betty (Bill Brochtrop), their two children, Edward (Deborah Puette), aged 8, and infant daughter, Victoria (an unnamed doll); Betty’s mother, the formidable and scary holder-of-British morals (Liza de Weerd); the nanny, Ellen (Abigail Marks), who is secretly in love with Betty, ; as well as a native servant, Joshua (white actor Chad Borden). Visiting them in these strained times are Clive’s close explorer-friend, Harry (David DeSantos), and Clive’s mistress, the widow Saunders (Marks again).

Ah, yes, an evening rife with possible confusions. Especially with the quick costume changes most of them have to navigate. The gender-bending works because the actors will it to be done quite seriously, and all the funnier for it. Watching Puette be both 8 and 50 or so quite makes the heart expand.  Borden makes no attempt to play “black,”; just makes his dangerous thoughts active.

In Act Two, Foxworth is Cathy (heavy mustache and all), the rather large five-year-old daughter of Victoria (de Weerd), who is unhappy in her marriage with Martin (De Santos),and  willing to try co-habiting with Lin (Marks, yet again), while brother Edward (Brochtrup), gay and eager to be slave/bottom to alienating bondage freak, Gerry (Borden), as well as living in a ménage-a-trois with his sister, Victoria, and butch Lin (don’t ask; the head hurts). And it all works theatrically and socially.

This is an extraordinary script, with true-to-life symbols that expose their innards by being played with gender-benders. It’s riotously funny, clever beyond words, and serious to boot.

The costuming is glorious (A. Jeffrey Schoenberg), both the Victorian excess and the contemporary mundane. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s basic set design of backdrops making a skewed British flag, with jungle brush to the sides, is handily lit by Leigh Allen.

Stangl has managed it all exceptionally well, making it entertaining as all get-out. So, move your butts, dammit, and see it!  You have to trust that it will hold you in its grip, leaving you breathless with enjoyment.

“Cloud 9” plays through April 24th at Antaeus Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood 91601. Tickets:  818.506.1983, or at Paid parking on west side of Lankershim, just south of Magnolia.