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If you think "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Jim Sharman's uproarious cult fantasy starring a crooning Transylvanian transvestite, is the absolute apex of time-traveling, gender-bending theatrical eccentricity, you have not seen "Cloud 9."

Caryl Churchill's 1979 theatrical experiment, in which time, space and sex become pliable as putty, takes audiences on a journey from colonial Africa in the Victorian age to London in the late-'70s. Its characters are, to say the least, confused about their identities, desires and needs. The first local production of Churchill's unorthodox play opens Thursday in the New Phoenix Theatre (95 Johnson Park). It's directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale and stars New Phoenix founder Richard Lambert, Chris Kelly, Diane Curley, Kelly Moore, Eric Rawski, Pamela Rose Mangus and Steve Copps.

"Men are played by women; women are played by men," said Lambert. The show, he added, features "great cross-pollination, great disappointed sex, some fragrances of happily ever after, but mostly longing for something nobody's ever gonna get."

The production runs through Dec. 22. Tickets are $15 to $25, with info at 853-1334 or www.newphoenixtheatre.org.

Colin Dabkowski