Tom Pecinka

A Conversation with Cloud 9’s Tom Pecinka

By Theresa M. MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

The Yale School of Drama graduate speaks with Hartford Stage about gender swapping, role reversal, and sexual politics.

What most interested you in Tom PecinkaCloud 9 and the opportunity to perform in Hartford Stage’s production?

Cloud 9 has been on my list of plays to do for a while now, although I can’t remember exactly when I first read it. I had seen a wonderful production in graduate school a few years back, and it really invigorated my desire to attack one of these parts. As an actor, it is your hope that you will be able to play parts that are complex, thoughtful and full of heart; and this piece brings all of that to the table and more. I also have been a long admirer of the work done at Hartford Stage, and have been waiting for the right project to bring me here.

Tell us about the characters you portray.

I play Betty in Act I and Edward in Act II. Betty is a young wife and mother living in Victorian Colonial Africa. Edward is a young man living in London circa 1979 and is working as a gardener.

During the first act, Betty says: “I am a man’s creation, as you can see. And what men want is what I want to be.” In the second act, Edward says: “Everyone’s always tried to stop me being feminine,” indicating that this is what he wants to be. How are Betty and Edward’s search for his/her own identity similar?

These are two people who feel shackled to the expectations of their gender. They are both struggling with desires of submission and domination and the way in which society expects them to move through the world. I don’t know if Edward truly wants to be a woman, but I do know that he doesn’t want to be a man. At least not in the way the world wants him to be. And I would say the same for Betty.

How do you feel that the sexual politics presented in Cloud 9 – beginning with Victorian repression in colonial Africa to the more free-wheeling liberal expression of the 1970s – resonate today?

I think we are living in a time similar to the 1970’s, when we are really paying attention to gender. We are asking tough questions about it, and we are pushing the boundaries of how it is expressed. I think because the Trans community is becoming incredibly visible, and more and more understood, it has allowed us to reopen the conversation on gender and move a little farther away from questions of sexuality. I think women, in general, are finding a new voice in our political landscape and that is where a lot of our discourse around gender and gender queer is headed. But I would hope that this play raises some questions around ideas of masculinity, which is a discussion I often find lacking in our society.

What would you like audiences to take away from Cloud 9?

I would hope that audiences leave the theatre asking themselves “Where have we been? Where are we now? And what will become of us?” I also want them to be entertained because I think above all theatre is here to entertain.