‘Cloud Nine’ challenges CSU actors

At first, the actors in the Columbus State University department of theater were bewildered by the timeline used in the play “Cloud Nine,” written by British playwright Caryl Churchill.

Now, after weeks of rehearsals, the actors are sure they’ve made it easy enough for the audience to follow.

But with one actor playing a character in 1880 Africa with another actor playing that same character in 1980 London, it won’t be an easy sell. To make it even more confusing, the first act and the second act are 100 years apart, but only 25 years have passed for the characters.

And the audience has to believe in the characters even if men are playing women, women are playing men and adults are playing children.

“When you see it, it will make sense,” said senior Dureyea Collier.

But will the audience just be confused or will it really make sense?

“I absolutely, 100 percent guarantee it will make sense,” senior Jim Pharr promised.

The audience will definitely have to trust the actors in this play, said director and theater professor Becky Becker.

To make things even more stressful on the cast (and herself), Becker is the co-planner of a conference about Tess Onwueme, Nigeria’s foremost playwright, at the University of Abuja, Nigeria. Besides planning the conference, she presented a paper on Onwueme last weekend. She got back to Columbus just in time for the final dress rehearsal.

Becker had always wanted to direct “Cloud Nine,” and got her chance, even though she had to miss almost a week’s worth of rehearsals. She chose Shane Harrison, a senior theater major, as assistant director, to oversee the rehearsals she missed.

Churchill, known for her feministic themes, writes about women’s issues as well as economic issues. The playwright is also concerned about issues of sexuality, Becker said.

Stephanie Nimmo said the play is great and a bit strange, but in a comforting way.

Besides playing various characters, the actors had to learn a South African accent and a modern British accent.

The students were coached by theater professor Rebecca McGraw.

Playing the opposite sex has been interesting to most of the young actors.

“It’s been different,” senior E.J. Cameron said. “The fact that you’re playing a woman, you’ve got to remember a lot of things. Like keeping your legs closed.”

“It’s so extreme,” Collier said. “I have to remember that I just can’t play masculine. So I just don’t think.”

Pharr doesn’t just play the part of a female character. He plays a 4-year-old girl.

Amid laughter, Pharr said, “I never thought I’d wear a little girl’s dress with cherries on it.”

Carrie Poh is no stranger to nontraditional casting. Last summer she played Frank-N-furter in “The Rocky Horror Show.”

She thinks “it’s so ridiculous sometimes.”

Heather Willis, a junior, has high hopes for the play.

“The play is so stylized that I think it will be easy to connect them (the audience) to the play.”