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Three's a 'Clouds'

City Lights premieres Charles Evered's new play, 'Clouds Hill,' about suspicion in a post-9/11 world

By Marianne Messina

EVEN AN avant-garde theater is allowed to have a minor facelift from time to time. As Lisa Mallette takes over the artistic director position at City Lights Theatre Company (Tom Gough is moving to Foothill College), she promises to shake things up. With her former role as managing director filled by actor/director Kit Wilder, Mallette has announced plans to renovate the theater lobby to accommodate seating. The husband-wife duo also intends to keep a tight reign on consistency throughout the new season while presenting edgy material and taking on new works. For their first play of the season, the company scored a hot new property, Clouds Hill, garnering a visit from the play's author, Charles Evered. Clouds Hill is the story of two professors (Mallette and Wilder) who find themselves ideologically at odds after they discover a Middle Eastern student (Kunal Prasad) engaged in lab work that, in the post-9/11 world, triggers suspicions of terrorism. "It's really mostly about what the war on terror has done to our humanity," Mallette explains. "It's affecting everybody at our most human, base level—either fear or added prejudice or extreme views, not wanting to compromise or meet in the middle." From his very first play, The Size of the World, to his short play Adopt a Sailor, the likes of Liev Schreiber, Olympia Dukakis, Rita Moreno and Sam Waterston have signed on to do Evered's premieres. In October, Amy Irving will star in the premiere of Celadine, a companion piece to Clouds Hill. So, as the leads in Clouds Hill, Mallette, Wilder and Prasad will be in lofty company. "It took me a few months working with his agent [William Morris] to talk them into letting us do it," Mallette reports. San Jose Repertory Theatre's Timothy Near had recommended the play to Mallette. "She went after it," Near said, when she heard Mallette had landed the play. "That's a brand-new play and a good play, and so she must have been very persuasive."

One of the rewards for Mallette has been working under Evered, who is directing. "The process is so open and creative," Mallette says. "He's seeing things in rehearsals that perhaps he hadn't thought of, and it just feels like this very exciting, collaborative experience." Likewise, Evered credits City Lights with helping him refine his take on the play. "We had that quote-unquote illuminating rehearsal at which, for me, the play became more consolidated and clear." Evered recounts the revelatory scene: The student "says something to the professor along the lines of 'Thank you, you've been a really great professor.' And I remember writing that scene a few weeks ago saying, 'I'm just doing this to do a transition' or whatever, and then I realized why I wrote that ... because there's this whole underlying world of 'these three people are good people' and that they're caught in a situation that was not of their own making and that ... if you took these three people and put them on Sept. 10, they would have been having coffee together." Evered notes that what isn't said in this scene changes the course of the play. Perhaps seeing the domino affect of a missed opportunity to communicate is one reason Evered hopes that Clouds Hill provokes thoughtful, open discussion.

Clouds Hill plays Sept. 16-Oct. 16, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday (except Sept. 19) at 7pm, at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$30. (408.295.4200)

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From the September 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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