The Duke University Department of Theater Studies will present Cloud Nine, British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 1979 comic masterpiece about sexual roles and sexual repression, Oct. 25-Nov. 2 in Reynolds Theater. Act I is set in 19th-century colonial Africa during the reign of Queen Victoria, and Act II is set in 1979 in London, where the old norms of race, gender, and sexual orientation have come into question, and it has become harder and harder to get to that state of emotional and/or orgasmic bliss know as “cloud nine.”

Somehow the colorful characters from Act I make the impossible leap into Act II, aging a mere 25 years in the process.

By miraculously transposing her characters from a 19th-century African colony of Great Britain into 20th-century English society, and by having actresses play some of the men’s roles and actors play some of the women’s roles, Caryl Churchill teaches her audiences some important lessons about love and romance, race and gender, and sexual identity and “life style.”

Duke Theater Studies faculty member Jeff Storer, who also serves as artistic director of Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, will stage this surreal script with a student cast.

“I really don’t know when I’ve had more fun…,” confessed Rex Reed of the New York Daily News. “[Cloud Nine] blends farce and pathos into a work of total theatre.”

Then-New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote: “…Miss Churchill has found a theatrical method that is easily as dizzying as her theme. Not only does she examine a cornucopia of sexual permutations-from heterosexual adultery right up to bisexual incest-but she does so with a wild array of dramatic styles and tricks…. Miss Churchill, as you might gather, is one deft writer.”

The Duke University Department of Theater Studies presents Cloud Nine Friday-Saturday, Oct. 25-26 and Nov. 1-2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m. in Reynolds Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus. $9 ($7 students and seniors). 919/684-4444. or