‘Cloud Nine’ brings sex and sexuality to the stage

Mitt Romney can’t keep women in binders forever.

“Cloud Nine” hopes to challenge the status quo and social norms of sex and sexuality through theater. The show, which opened Tuesday at the Iseman Theater, juxtaposes England in the Victorian age and the 20th century Thatcher era, portraying a family as it struggles with defining the “traditional” family in both ages — a definition that inhibits self-acceptance and independence, said Margot Bordelon DRA ’13, who is directing the show as her School of Drama thesis project.

“Men should behave like men, and women should behave like women, and there isn’t very much gray area,” said Gabriel Levey DRA ’14, who plays Clive and Cathy in the show.

In Victorian England, Levey explained, the audience finds the embodiment of a traditional, white, Christian, patriarchal family in which the father is second only to God and the queen — a convention that does not allow for exploration of any gray area. Levey added that American society still values these traits today, as evidenced by the stress Romney placed on the sanctity of marriage during his presidential campaign.

In the first act, Betty, wife and mother, faces oppression at the hands of her husband, who constantly instructs her to behave within the bounds of society’s rules. But when the play fast forwards in its second act, Betty leaves her husband, finding independence and beginning to define herself as more than a wife and mother, Bordelon said.

“All these feminine gestures — that actually isn’t inherent in the female species,” Bordelon said. “We were taught to behave this way. It doesn’t have anything to do with who we are as human beings.”

The play questions the meaning of gender with men playing the roles of women, and women the roles of men. Bordelon explained that the play represents femininity as a learned social behavior — a performance — by highlighting the ability of a male actor to effectively impersonate a woman. Femininity, Boredelon said, is not an innate female trait.

“What [the play] is pointing to is how much a performance this is,” said Emily Reilly DRA ’13, one of the show’s dramaturgs. “What [it’s] doing is lifting gender off the body and placing it in these other signifiers.”

The degeneration of the traditional nuclear family includes more than Betty’s separation from her husband. Victoria and Edward, Betty and Clive’s children, live together with their gay lovers. Reilly said the rigid sexual ideas present in the first act are challenged when orgies, incest and homosexuality enter this communal living situation.

“It’s free love and they’re all having sex with each other and it’s liberating and it’s wonderful,” Reilly said.

The characters in the play learn to come to terms with sexual liberality. In the second act, Edward struggles to accept his sexuality in public and must face the daunting task of coming out to Betty. In time, both accept that sexual desires can exist outside of condoned social norms, Levey explained.

“Life is different,” Levey said. “There are homosexual relationships. Lesbians and gay men exist and live together.”

“Cloud Nine” will be performed at the Iseman Theater until its finale Jan. 26.

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