Let’s just make a pact now that we won’t make a big deal about unintentional double entendres. Or intentional ones. Okay? Moving on:
Cock seems an interesting idea at the beginning. The play, by Brit dramatist Mike Bartlett, is staged at The Duke on 42nd Street in the round with the audience on risers at close quarters to a stage having a fairly small diameter. The play’s British title was Cockfight (here in the US, venues that need to remain this side of decency call it, with official sanction, The Cockfight Play) and indeed that’s the kind of event it seems as if we might be attending. The actors are dressed casually to type, but the clothes barely seem like costuming, especially as, despite the text, they never change—not even when people are supposed to be in bed together. There are no physical props either, nor scenery beyond the naked arena, nor set pieces. The staging (in this production overseen by director James Macdonald) includes circling, feinting, leaning in, clinching, sudden releases and etc. The words are meant to evoke everything, and the poassage of time between segments, sometimes even between segments of the same scene, are indicated by a bell-tone, which is, of course, the signal of another round.
The play is about John (Cory Michael Smith) a young gay man who suddenly springs upon his slightly older partner, only identified in the program as M (Jason Butler Harner), that he may not be so gay anymore and has fallen for a woman. But he’s thinking he wants to break it off with her, and wants M’s help to do it. Which is, of course, the opposite of what he tells W (Amanda Quaid). Basically, John is a guy who can’t make up his mind and is hoping that somehow in a confrontation others will reveal the answer for him. M & W resent him like crazy for it; and yet they are so smitten anyway that they comply, M even enlisting the help of his father, F (Cotter Smith).
Unlike most cockfights, however, Cock is an attenuated affair; and at the 2/3 point, where the quartet face each other down, you start to get the idea that—as happens in little relationshippy plays like this, in which people are unconnected to anything except self-interest—all bets are off because there’ll be no clear winner and a downbeat, ambiguous ending. And sure enough…
I’m not telling you not to see Cock; it was the sleeper hit of the Summer season (indeed, some of us critics were not invited until recently because seating is limited and the run on tickets was fierce) and it brings with it a unique theatricality, four terrific actors and some fun, occasionally snappy-bitchy dialogue.
My caveat is (only?) that at the end of the day, we’re in the Brit version of Neil LeBute territory, which is (usually) a land in which whiny twenty-and thirty-somethings deal with their screwed up emotional lives like whiny teenagers. If the LaBute thing works for you, the Bartlett thing will work for you too. If not…go (if you like) to admire the creativity and delivery of the approach; and expect that otherwise revelation will be at a minimum. Which is natural, when the dramatic arc is a pendulum.
That’s just the way this one swings.
Entendre lovers, as you were…
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