BWW Reviews: COCK by Red Turnip Theater
By Emmanuel Evan Alba
Manila, Philippines--The word "cock" can be described in many different ways: the alternative term for a certain kind of bird; a male reproductive organ; or a certain kind of overconfident man who thinks he knows everything. Red Turnip's COCK presents all those in less than two hours.
COCK is a contemporary play written by award-winning British playwright Michael Bartlett, seen by people from all over the world after premiering in London in 2009 and in Off-Broadway in 2010, where it was a hit, and now has arrived on Philippine shores.
COCK is a play about a gay man ("John") confused about his sexuality as he starts to fall in love with a girl ("W"). However, it is more than that since he is still in a "sort of" relationship with another man ("M"). To straighten things up (pun intended) and to remove confusion from everybody, the play's lead characters set up a dinner to talk about the issue. However, as the dinner climaxes, M's father ("F") comes and complicates things even more.
Topper Fabregas (Boeing, Boeing, The Producers) plays the ever-confused, ever-indecisive, ever-careless John. John is a kind of gay man who still dreams of having a traditional family: a man, a woman, some kids. John has a name because he is the only one who needs it. He is a relatively new type of gay man. He has no clear label yet: is he a straight gay, or a gay gay? Topper plays and "localizes" John. He makes John look like the everyday yuppie people see on the streets--looking so innocent, needing a mother. He jumps from character to another since John is a very malleable character. He is totally weak when he is with M, but street smart and assertive when he is with W. He is needy when he is with M, but shows a certain kind of manly complexity when he is with W. Topper pulls off bowing his head when M cusses him, and maintains a strong appearance when W gets needy. He can also show confusion and irritation when the scene needs him to be like that. The dinner, a tool for John to say what needs to be said, is that part of the play when he is at his best even though the focus is not always on him. He is the right person to play John, except for some stiff hand gestures.
On the other hand, Niccolo Manahan (Next Fall, Doubt) plays M, the other gay, the boyfriend. M used to be the one in the relationship who has dominance, maturity, and control. He is the type of gay person who knows who he is and what he likes (and he likes the f-word). He is the confident one especially since his father supports him even though he is not straight. He is the bitch until John slept with a woman. From then on, he starts to look downhearted and becomes the one who needs to get his man back. Niccolo plays M with confidence and authority. When he speaks, people know M wants something so bad, but when he slowly pleads for his man to come back, he really does mean it. The range of his voice is also the range of emotion he can show.
Jenny Jamora plays W, the woman, the other woman and actually, the only "cock-less" person in COCK. She is not manly. She is not a slob. She is sweet. Most of all, she is needy--both a woman archetype and a cliché, depending on who is judging. She is everything that M can never be. The only thing about W is that she lacks background, especially when compared to the two gay men. There is still more to see: why does she sleep with a random man? What actually happened to her former husband? Why would she repeatedly want to sleep with a gay man? She could actually be a little bit gay deep inside for all we know. Jenny brings serious drama into the dynamics of the play. Her first words, spoken with her natural low voice, automatically oppose Niccolo's frequent high tones. Her tears, while staring blankly outside the cockpit-inspired set, are noteworthy. She is truly a girl overpowered by emotion. W is very interesting because she is unique, in a sense, in this story. What difference would it make if she were written as another male?
F, played by theatre veteran Audie Gemora, is M's father who suddenly is making an appearance and makes the dinner even more awkward and confusing. F is a cool dad. He is not grumpy; he is not that judgmental; he is OK and even supports his gay son to the point where he defends his son's right to love another man. He is probably a baby boomer, which could be the reason why he has the capability to reject certain traditional values. He is that one person in the story who is really outside the complicated love triangle. He is the only one who can potentially be the unattached/unbiased element or the opposite of John. However, he is written to be the father of M. Why is that? Audie is effortless onstage. He is not acting; he is actually living the life of F.
To sum up the actors' performance: they make it look like they are their own directors.
There are no props. The characters just offer to do something but do not actually do it, which is actually good because it will distract the audience from the real action onstage. There is no actual stage except for a small pit surrounded by the audience. There is really something surreal whenever a play is being done in this kind of intimate setting, given that the actors are actually close to the audience. It grabs the audience especially when it is well-played. There are no awkward moments except when the lights go down and people see the actors breaking their characters for a while--the disadvantage of not having a backstage.
The lighting is effective but hard to figure out. There are no real patterns that a regular spectator would notice. The sound, on the other hand, is also minimal which is good since it shows consistency. However, sometimes, it fails to enter on the right time; plus, it creates disturbing noises coming from an unidentifiable source. One of the things that is probably not likely in this kind of setting is that the audience can actually see the people at the tech booth panicking when a disruption of sound is heard, which distracts the audience even more. The makeup and costumes used are also consistent to the minimalist theme of the play. Even Jenny looks like she does not have that much makeup.
Rem Zamora debuts as a director in COCK to close the maiden season of Red Turnip in the same place where it all started, Whitespace Makati. Rem, along with the other visionaries of Red Turnip, makes his dream of engaging theatergoers into plays of substance with COCK. The new group's fresh vision and passion is apparent in COCK. Although there is a different kind of directing needed in this play, Rem does a great job at it.
COCK is a postmodern type of a play, with a little bit of modern and classical elements, which is an agreeable type. People cannot present a modern play without getting something from the basics especially with the given theme and limitation of the play.
It is postmodern because it just raises questions, essentially, instead of answering the questions that the audience already know. What people think of the world now is always challenged and sometimes disregarded. The play is sort of paradoxical because John knows that he is not straight, but now is straight although he is not. This could be the case or it is just that the characters are fragmented. They form a collection of contrasting and parallel things coming from a main idea. The actors here are not really active since they are not the ones who are presenting a conclusion. Something is overpowering them instead of them being empowered by the writer. They cannot do anything about events that are currently happening. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism. Everything seems always relative. It basically questions attitudes towards "facts." Also, it is postmodern because people do not think of it as cheap even with its "minimalist" staging.
It has elements of modernist theatrical style because of its imagism. However, it is not truly modern since the story is not actually new. It just wants to present that "new thing" in a new light.
Lastly, it is also classical because the audience always need to rely on their imagination (due to lack of props, etc.) to extend what the play is showing them, thus, a different COCK experience for everyone even though people watch it at the same time. This is one promiscuous COCK! Although COCK has an overpromising title, it is timely and witty. COCK is like reading a book with no images, just text. People need to fill out the blank spaces on their own. When the actors "do a chore," the audience members are the ones who play in their heads what the actors are implying. When the actors make love, the audiences are the ones who imagine that the actors are actually doing the deed because all the actors do is moan, give intense looks, and do some steps in a spiral way. The "physical" kiss for example is less sexy than the "implied" sex scene. The audience even put their own ending to COCK because there is none. It is through the audiences' imagination that the creative team and actors can convey more the setting and the atmosphere of the play. It is a bit Shakespearean in that way. The production exists only in the viewer's mind as what the viewer interprets--nothing more and nothing less. It is actually the trait that is taken by modern and postmodern plays.
COCK will not give answers--it just highlights an issue that people probably have heard from a friend or colleague but did not mind. COCK is presenting bisexuals in a new light. Being bisexual has no real definition until now.
The Philippines needs more of this kind of play. It may not necessarily be about gay people because that would be an overkill, but the non-musical kinds with substance. This is the kind of play that will make people think more profoundly.
Red Turnip Theater's production of COCK runs until Sunday, April 6 at Whitespace (2314 Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati City). For tickets, visit ticketworld.com.ph.