BWW Reviews: DC Premiere of COCK at Studio Theatre
British playwright Mike Bartlett is a wordsmith. He has an ability to tell a story through dialogue and stage direction that it completely unique to anything else. He has had quite a few success in London, notably, King Charles III, a three hour epic about the eventual rise of the Prince of Wales. He called it a "future history play" mimicking the history plays of Shakespeare.
In Cock, currently playing at Studio Theatre, Bartlett uses words and descriptions to flesh out the strangest of love triangles. At the center is John (Ben Cole) who is a gay male in a committed relationship with M. (Scott Parkinson) and a heterosexual relationship with W. (Liesel Allen Yeager) We never learn the lovers' name and to Bartlett's credit it adds to the fact that we shouldn't care. John has to make a decision. He must decide whether to stay with M, who he loves but presumable doesn't like very much, or W, who he claims to love, but in reality has a physical relationship and he probably loves the idea of her.
Early in the 95 minute, intermission-less performance, John tells M, "We're fundamentally different people." I'm sure everyone who has suffered a break up has probably been on either end of that phrase at some point, but you don't realize how true it is until the end. John is going through a self-discovery: does his sexuality really define him? It's a question that unfortunately has causalities. In the final round of the play, these lovers, and M's recently widowed father, F (Bruce Bow) run around fighting with each other and saying things they probably regret. The culmination of John's journey, or lack thereof really, comes to a head in these final moments and each partner must find out what John's decision is.
As part of Studio Theatre's "New British Invasion Festival", artistic director David Muse has assembled quite an evening. The script calls for the play to be performed without sets and props and Muse uses these limitations to his advantage. He lets the dialogue carry the story, and keeps his main actor on stage throughout the entire performance waiting for his final showdown. Muse puts the whole action on Debra Booth's simple, dirt-covered ring, and under fluorescent hum of Colin K. Bills' lights. One note of particular accomplishment was Muse's choreography of a very sensual, yet completely non-graphic sexual encounters.
Taking part in this bout is a quartet of superb actors. At the center Ben Cole portrays the conflicted John with boyish charm and an indecisive quality that makes you both feel sorry for him and hate him at the same time. In the next corner is Scott Parkinson's M. and Liesel Allen Yeager's W. These two stalwarts of acting are the strongest part of the show in both Bartlett's writing and their execution. Yeager, in particular, has a moment with Bruce Dow's F that is terrifying and somber. Dow, fresh off his Helen Hayes nominated performance in Forum hangs up his comedy belt for a more dramatic role and makes F an unwilling participant.
When Cock opened at the Duke on 42st in New York in 2012, it was billed as "The Cockfighting Play" to keep the family friendly advertisers happy. I am glad however that Studio Theatre does not attempt to PC their advertising. The word in the title has multiple meanings and every possible meaning of the word is what the play is about it and Bartlett and Muse do an extraordinary job of conveying that message.
Warning: the show includes mature themes, including language, and sexual situations.