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BWW Review: Studio Theatre's COCK is a Raw, Raunchy Rant on Choice, Need and Identity

Streaming now from Studio Theatre, “Cock” is crass and callous, heart-breaking and hilarious as it examines the nomansland where choice and identity collide.

BWW Review:  Studio Theatre's COCK is a Raw, Raunchy Rant on Choice, Need and Identity

Free will is a bitch, or as the characters in playwright Mike Bartlett's Cock would put it, a "wanker."

Cock, streaming now, is a 2014 Helen Hayes-award winner and the first show Studio Theatre rehearsed and filmed for its 2020-2021 all-digital season. Inspired by the cock fights Bartlett saw in Mexico, Cock turns verbal sparring into a death match. Stripped of this brutality, however, Cock is about a love triangle. John breaks up with M, his boyfriend of many years and, still smarting from the breakup, sleeps with W, a woman he keeps seeing on the Tube. Questioning his sexuality, John spirals and seeks to reconnect with M while continuing to string along W. In an hour and 40 minutes, Cock is crass and callous, heart-breaking and hilarious as it examines the nomansland where choice and identity collide.

Bartlett's dialogue, arguably the star of the show, makes clear his intention to blur the line between television and theatre, even before COVID-19 made that a necessity. Director David Muse and Director of Video Wes Culwell turn the camera into a storyteller -- split screens create point-of-view, camera movement creates tension and shot choice convey pathos -- so couch-bound audiences are consumed with the spark of a live show.

It's that spark that makes Cock interesting. It oozes energy even when, on its face, it's just people fussing at one another barefoot in an unadorned, dirt-floored room. Yet the simplicity -- the dip to black for a scene change, the lack of set dressing -- only enhances the story until Cock drips with angst, humor and vulnerability.

Cock is dialogue heavy, but witty enough ("My tits are going to grow a mustache, what?") to capture attention given willingly. Its vulgarity, however, wears thin. By the time W is accusing M's father of looking at her breasts, or John is going on about W's vagina, or M is shouting that the ancient Romans were child rapists, there's a sense of 'oh, this again.' Shock value can easily become a point in itself, especially in a work whose key themes -- bisexuality, identity politics, indiscretion and stereotyping -- are glanced at, seen and then mined only within context. These characters aren't here to teach audiences anything, nor are they meant to mirror our problems and reflect back "woke" solutions.

Instead of offering lessons, Randy Harrison brings gravitas to the overly-earnest John, whose inability to know himself is embarrassingly relatable. John seeks out those who make him feel interesting, and finds himself with M. Shallow and cocky (forgive the pun), M is insufferable. Yet Scott Parkinson imbues the character with a subtle vulnerability that is gut-wrenching. M is a fantastic opponent for Kathryn Tkel's W, a modern woman ensnared in all the traps of modernity -- stereotyping, sexism and our desperate bids for connection -- without any of the self-referential pity.

These characters are singularly fantastic in the work's culminating scene -- a dinner party where John forces M and W to confront one another. The moment, which also includes an intrusion from M's father (Alan Wade,) puts even classic ensemble comedies -- Boys in the Band, August Osage County, Twelfth Night -- to shame. When the cock-sure (again, forgive the pun) M breaks down, Parkinson offers such real pain that audiences may turn on the wishy-washy John. W, who flirts with preachiness while criticizing M's father or demanding civility from M, emphasizes the reality that -- free will or not -- our choices affect one another.

Cock's success exists in its relatability. Everyone is, or at least has friends like, John, M or W. Yet when the lights dim for the final time and the camera pulls back, it becomes clear how odd this play really is, especially in our year in quarantine. Yes, the production overcame a lot -- air purifying regulations that kicked actors off the set every 80 minutes for nearly an hour, masks that conceal facial cues, Zoom rehearsals, acting six feet apart, adapting to cameras and empty audiences -- to bring the show to pandemic-era audiences.

But the most arresting reality the work offers is how much we may have forgotten about other people -- their flaws, their humor, their heart, their forgiveness and their pain. Cock is both a balm for that raw nerve, and salt in the wound.


Cock is intended for mature audiences. Streaming tickets start at $37.99 and are available through April 18th by clicking here.



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