BWW Reviews: Theater LaB Houston & Obsidian Art Space's COCK is Fascinating and Poignant
With a suggestive title and a fascinating premise, Mike Bartlett's COCK is making a stir in Houston. Coproduced by Theater LaB Houston and Obsidian Art Space, the 90-minute one-act play that took London by storm in 2009 and received glowing reviews in New York City in 2012, lives up to its in-town and out-of-town hype. Be warned though, this show is for adults only, and patrons under the age of 18 will not be admitted.
In COCK, John cheats on his long-term boyfriend with a woman. This doesn't happen just once. John sleeps with the woman twice, driving home the fact that the infidelity strays beyond what may be seen as an innocuous curiosity. Soon, John finds himself emotionally and sexually torn between his boyfriend and the woman he has slept with. In the gripping drama, both partners demand that he decide who and what he is.
Mark Adams directs the intriguing drama without any of the typical trappings of theatre. There are no sets, no fancy lighting cues, and no props. The performance is given in the round, with the audience surrounding the players. As the plot progresses, the characters talk, have sex, and even share a climatic dinner together; however, all of this is done in stylized pantomime and intriguing circular movements. The way Mark Adams has staged the drama, the audience constantly gets the idea of boxers circling the ring, waiting to land their blows squarely on the jaw of their opponent. The ringing buzzer that ends each of the terse scenes cleverly enhances this notion.
As John, Bobby Haworth constructs a fascinating character who is wholly loveable. We can't help but root for him for the entirety of the production. Coping with his struggles to understand himself as a sexual being and trying to understand the implications of his sexuality, Bobby Haworth delivers a poignant and deeply moving performance as John. Leading the production, he guides the audience through his own inner turmoil while battling against both his boyfriend and the woman he slept with in hopes of finding peace and maybe even a glimpse of his own true self.
Through John, Mike Bartlett emphasizes that no mater how one identifies, no matter what label one clings to, our society's rigid adherence to gender roles and labels for sexual orientations creates a confusing and troubling landscape for us all to traverse. Acknowledging and accepting that sexuality occurs on a spectrum is not something most are willing to do, which leaves Bobby Hawoth's John blind and alone in a dangerous minefield.
Dain Geist creates a spectacularly loving yet controlling persona as John's boyfriend, listed in the program as M. We can see how John fell for M; however, we also see how tenuous and complicated the relationship is. W, or the woman John slept with, is brought to life by Haley Hussey. She creates a character that is seemingly open to John's experimentation; yet, she uses her ability to manipulate and the incredible sex they shared to try and control John as well. John, M, and W are all imperfect and delightfully human, keeping the audience glued to the action as it unfolds in a non-linear sequence before us.
Lastly, playing M's father, F, Steve Bullitt arrives for the final 15 minutes or so of the production. He is called in as reinforcement for the confrontation M expects to have with W and John. It seems that he may serve as a voice of reason in the play because he is older and wiser. Conversely, he takes up arms with his son and with a pretense of unconditional love and acceptance for John, he forcibly demands that John make the decision that he is gay and that his son is perfect for him.
COCK, starkly presented without any adornments, relies heavily on Mike Bartlett's well-chosen and powerfully written words to convey meaning to the audience. Watching the show we are truly given just the words of the script to go off of, which leaves a lot of room for differing interpretations and experiences. Thus, I suggest you go with some friends or family members because this is one show you'll be dying to talk about the whole way home and for days to come.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Southwest Premiere of COCK, coproduced by Theater LaB Houston and Obsidian Art Space, runs at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Boulevard, Houston, 77007 now through May 11, 2014. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://theaterlabhouston.com or call (713) 868-7516.
Photos courtesy of Theater LaB Houston.