Gender Portraits and New Opportunities: An Interview with Cloud 9 Director Mark Rucker

Posted by Adrian Gebhart, A.C.T. Education Department Volunteer

Glenn Stott, Elyse Price, and Lisa Kitchens wait on the set of #Cloud9 while lights are focused on them at tech rehearsal.

Don’t miss A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program production of Cloud 9! (Limited run, May 15–18, in Hastings Studio Theater)
Since joining the company in 2009, A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker has directed productions of Maple and Vine, Higher, Once in a Lifetime, and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet. He has also tackled several Master of Fine Arts Program productions, including last season’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and this past winter’s raucous The Wild Party in The Costume Shop. He has also worked with such Bay Area companies as the Magic, Cal Shakes, Berkeley Rep, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and SF Playhouse. He is an associate artist at South Coast Rep, where he has directed more than 20 productions, and other regional credits include work at Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, Arena Stage, Intiman Theatre, and The Old Globe.

Rucker recently sat down with us to talk about directing the M.F.A. Program production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, playing in Hastings Studio Theater May 15–18.

Why did you decide to direct Cloud 9?
I’ve always admired the play. I’m curious about the issues of gender and sexuality that are in it: Why is Betty played by a man in the first act? How is that different from a man playing a little girl in the second act? It’s asking all these questions about cross dressing, gender in general, and, specifically, the gender portrait of 1880 and then 1980. I think what Churchill’s getting at is that as fluid as things are in 1980, in terms of feminism and sexuality, there are still issues. Like Edward wanting to be in a traditional same-sex relationship, and his partner not. Those become new issues.

Are there any other particular themes you’ll be focusing on in your production?
There’s a thread in the play that has to do with British politics and colonialism. The first act is set in colonial Africa, and so as members of a British family, these characters have basically invaded. There’s a lot of subtle references to all the people that they’ve had to murder to be there—to conquer. There’s also an ongoing sense that the natives are starting to come and fight them. And in the second act, there’s a bit about Ireland.

How do you address the gender issues Cloud 9 explores?
I’m going to start by asking the man to really play a woman—and not in a campy way. I think there’s a lot going on with Betty. I want to be able to go on her journey, and by asking a man to play her, there’s an opportunity for us to think about her in a new way. Edward being played by a woman is also a chance to bring femininity and masculinity into question with a little boy who is struggling with the sex role that he’s being assigned. He keeps wanting to play with a doll and the family keeps taking it away from him.

For me, this is a play about finding yourself. So I’m really moved by Betty in the second act, who has left her husband behind. That’s of course the primary image of the play at the very end, and it’s very beautiful to me.

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