Darrah Cloud was born in 1955 in northern Illinois and later moved to New York City. She earned a bachelor of science degree from Goddard College and received a dual master of fine arts degree in English and theater from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in Iowa City.
Much of Cloud’s work for the stage and screen, whether original or adapted, focuses on the social concerns of women’s lives. Her early plays of the 1970’s and 1980’s depict women’s struggles to gain autonomy within a culture of socially prescribed and oppressive roles, as well as their efforts to find and employ authentic voices to break the silence of sexual repression. Later works, in the 1990’s and early twenty-first century (including her adaptation of Willa Cather’s 1913 novel O Pioneers!), depict strong, intelligent, self-emancipated women who defy traditional stereotypes and succeed on their own merits and efforts. Other plays raise awareness about ongoing racial injustice in the United States (The Honor Song for Crazy Horse) and about surviving sexual and other physical abuse (The Sirens).
Cloud first debuted her work on the American stage in 1982 with The House Across the Street. The success of her second produced play, The Stick Wife, secured her place among feminist playwrights of note in the United States. Set in the turbulent 1960’s, this social drama employs rich symbolism to reveal connections among racial, social, and gender inequities in the United States. The Stick Wife chronicles the life of its title character, Jessie Bliss, a woman who seeks asylum in her own back yard beneath a canopy of red dresses in an attempt to protest, and escape for a period of time, the domestic confinement of her marriage to a pipe-bombing Ku Klux Klan member and murderer of four young black girls.
Significant works for the nonmusical stage include Obscene Bird of Night, The Mud Angel, Braille Garden, Genesis, Dreamhouse, and The Sirens. The latter play traces the lives of women who are survivors of abuse. The Sirens examines the events that lead to their removal from one form of imprisonment (their violent homes) and placement into another (the penitentiary where they serve their time). Ultimately, Cloud’s piece focuses on the personal freedoms gained by these women through their physical strength and spiritual resilience in the face of adversity.
In 1989, she began a collaboration with composer Kim D. Sherman with a musical adaptation of Cather’s novel O Pioneers!, for which Cloud wrote the lyrics. Next the team produced The Honor Song for Crazy Horse, a biography of the renowned Oglala Sioux chief. Cloud’s script and lyrics relay the brutal history of an indigenous people’s genocide at the hands of white people and celebrate their pageantry, spirituality, and lore. Linear chronological storytelling is replaced in this musical by a cyclical structure that melds past, present, and future—an approach reflective of American Indian sensibilities and knowledge of the world. The Honor Song for Crazy Horse premiered as the final main stage production of TheatreWorks’s 1993-1994 season and received the prestigious Frederick Loewe Award in Music Theatre. In 1998 the team celebrated their tenth year of collaboration by producing Heartland, which premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House.
In 1991, Cloud wrote the screenplay for the motion picture The Haunted, which began her fruitful career in the writing of screenplays and teleplays. Her most significant television work was O Pioneers! , adapted from her original musical and filmed for the Public Broadcasting Services’s American Playhouse series. It featured Mary McDonnell as Alexandria, a resourceful Swedish immigrant...
(The entire section is 897 words.)