BWW Review: Artists' Collective Theatre's COCK Left Me Questioning
There is a great need in Calgary for Queer stories to be told, for emerging artists to be highlighted, and for local directors and creators to take the stage. Artists' Collective Theatre's production of Cock by Mike Bartlett does all of those things.
John (played by John McIver) separates from his long-time boyfriend (played by Andrew Cormier) and finds himself connecting with a woman he frequently meets on the train (played by Emily Dallas). After sleeping with her and finding he has a genuine emotional connection, John begins to question if he is gay but he struggles to make a decision. It all leads to a dinner party with the boyfriend, the girlfriend, and the boyfriend's father (played by Stuart Bentley) who all plead with John to make up his mind and choose the life he wants. In the end, John does come to a conclusion but the resolution is left a little open.
I had trouble connecting with John as a protagonist. I was frequently frustrated and saw no real change in his character despite the stated high stakes. As a plot, I'm not sure how I feel about a story that is about a man who refuses to make choices and is essentially yelled at for an hour and forty-five minutes. It doesn't lend itself to a lot of action or movement so matter the skill of the team putting on this story, I would have found myself bored.
Director Conrad Belau has set up the Motel theatre with a reflective floor (a fact which had me distracted wondering if all of the actors were wearing styled leggings) and four chairs to mark the different locations. With quick transitions and a focus on the actors rather than the set, it enabled the audience to give all their energy to the performers and the text. However, the lack of set and few text clues offered some confusion about setting or whether location truly mattered for most of the scenes, leading me to wonder if there wasn't a better way to note time transitions.
I liked the concept of Jordan Wieben's costume design. I felt it left the actors eternally exposed in a dramatically necessary way and with one exception, I understood why they put on clothes as a form of armor for hiding. I think it was a simple thing that efficiently communicated the character's emotional state.
I am very happy to see more shows employing the use of an intimacy director - regardless of the show's rating or how many scenes may require it. With Cock, there is a fair amount of touching and sexual language so I am glad to see the subject matter be taken seriously. That said, I felt a disconnect between John and his two lovers; a lack of focus or grounding from John and I couldn't say if it was a fitting character choice or a comment on the actor.
There is a lot of text in the show and I applaud all of the actors, especially McIver, for their memorization and stamina to take this journey for an hour and forty-five minutes. What I struggled with was finding meaning in their words. I couldn't tell you what the intention or the overall message of the show was beyond the desire to shake John and make him do something - anything. My frustration clouded any real enjoyment of the show and I left feeling disappointed. The actors' performances were fine (not good or bad) but were vessels for a story I didn't care about.
Like John, I couldn't come to a decision about this show. I want to see more emerging artists and I want to see more Queer stories, but I also want to see shows that tell a coherent story and have a message to share that can touch a general audience.
I don't know that Cock did that for me.
John - John McIver
M - Andrew Cormier
W - Emily Dallas
F - Stuart Bentley
Directed by Conrad Belau
Set Design by Lauren Acheson
Lighting Design by Lauren Acheson
Costume Design by Jordan Wieben
Sound Design by Geoff Buchanan
Fight Choreographer by Zakk MacDonald
Intimacy Director by Amanda Cutting