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Studio Theatre Cock

By • May 22nd, 2014 • Category: Reviews, Washington DC
Cock
Studio Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Studio Theatre, Washington DC
Through June 22nd
90 minutes without intermission
$20-$65 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed May 20th, 2014

Moving beyond its flame-thrower of a title, Mike Bartlett’s Cock is a striking, verbally pungent jolt of theater about a love-triangle for contemporary times and audiences. The production is part of Studio’s New British Invasion Festival.

In Cock we witness two men and a woman circling each other; trying to get the right angle and upper hand for a take-down of sorts. To the victor, goes the prize of a lovely young man, who keeps everyone hanging on, but one who has his share of commitment-phobias, to use a dated term of reference. The characters smash at one another with the spewed-forth, hurtful words of people who know well each other’s vulnerable places.

The play is a competitive schoolyard wrestling match, with verbal taunts, and accompanying thrusts and parries as the audience views the goings-on almost as school chums of one or another of the active participants. Will someone get hurt or just give-up and leave the circle forfeiting the match and the prize?

In the case of Cock it is a very angst-filled bout of constant movement with words spit out in an overlapping manner. Then a beat or two of silence to assess the damage. Under David Muse’s direction the production takes on an athletic air with attacks and counter-attacks, rather than cock-fighting event with blood, physical dismemberment and death the expectation. Muse gives the show a plenitude of game-playing offensive and defensive movements and maneuvers; grapples, holds and attempts at take-downs. Whatever sex and sexuality that might be expected with the play’s title is accomplished with words, rather than a shedding of clothes or hot public shows of affection.

Written by the Brit Mike Bartlett, who is in his early 30′s and has made a mark in only about seven years of playwriting. When first produced in Great Britain, Cock won an Olivier Award in 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. In the Studio program, Bartlett is quoted; “theatre has to appeal to people who do jobs and have lives…the only choice is where your focus is. Do you write your play thinking about other plays? Or do you look out the window and say, my play is about that –whatever the world is. That’s what I’m after.”

Permit your reviewer a digression, but when I read those words from Bartlett, I was drawn back to Al Kooper’s bluesy version of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” with its lyrics of “When I look out my window, Many sights to see, And when I look in my window, So many different people to be, That it’s strange, So strange…must be the season of the witch.”

Cock forcefully tells the story of two men in a long-time relationship just as the younger one, named John (convincingly played in a passive-aggressive manner by Ben Cole in his Studio début), artfully pushes for a break. He is either bored or unhappy with the way his older, stock-broker partner, named M (Scott Parkinson ably showing both a powerful “bitchy” bitterness and a nuanced vulnerability based upon real hurt) treats him. And off John goes.

Soon enough John finds himself involved with not another man; but a divorced, childless woman in her late 20′s named W (a lovely sometimes gentle, sometimes forceful Liesel Allen Yeager in her Studio début as a risk-taking woman going after what she wants). W is a school teacher of sorts. But, for confused and convoluted reasons, John returns to M seeking a reconciliation. M at first seems willing to forgive John, but then is not so certain. He needs some proof of John’s permanence in the partnership. So a dinner is planned to settle the matter. And we learn that W does not want to give up on John who has become the man of her dreams with the possibility of a future to include marriage and children.

There is also a late-comer to the proceedings, M’s father who is called F. As played by Bruce Dow, he is a middle-aged widower with life experiences of his own. He is a wild card at the dinner giving weight to his son’s love for John. He wants the woman W to just go.

This is the set-up for Cock, a tale of sexual attractions and a plenitude of simultaneous conflicting feelings along with an abundance of heated exchanges that pose complex questions about identity, sexuality, and a need for certainty and loyalty in a relationship. As the perplexed John asks himself, “what do I wish to be” his response to himself and others often enough is, “you can’t force me.” He is just in a dumb-struck muddle. He is at a loss of what comes after physical desire and sexual attraction with another human being of any gender.

The technical design for the intimacy of the Milton Theatre is what director Muse described in his program notes as “unencumbered by furniture or scene shifts.” There are short pauses accompanied by a tone-perfect sports buzzer to begin each new interval of action, courtesy of James Bigbee Garver. With Debra Booth’s spare set; a circle of hard-packed (but so clean-looking!) grayish sand-dirt mixture in which the combatants do their work is lit by 10 long fluorescent tubes from lighting designer Colin K. Bills. The only other hard set design element is a circular, blondish plywood back drop It is sometimes used as sitting place for the characters to take a momentary break and a public sip of water, as an athlete might do during a period, quarter or half-time interlude from action.

Alex Jaeger’s tasteful costumes give off the aura of each character. Parkinson wears nicely fitted clothes including a vest and fine laced brown shoes, Yeager is attired in a stylish, well-fitted figure-hugging black dress over her small frame that gives off a chic femininity along with square 3+ inch heels. Cole is in more casual attire with Tiger-like athletic shoes and an open neck shirt.

In program notes, Studio Theatre Dramaturg Adrien-Alice Hansel called the show “an unflinching examination of the vertiginous and seemingly provisional nature of identity itself” with the “main character paralyzed by ambivalence, in love with two people, his long-term boyfriend and a woman he’s just met.” Phew, now that is an excited mouthful of a description, but not off the mark.

So we have character John, who is questioning his sexuality and frames of reference. Who does he love, what does he want? How will he decide between the two people who want him? Would John’s charm and prowess be sufficient for a long-run partnership with anyone? Bartlett’s Cock asks many questions, but leaves answers up to audience members to contemplate and perhaps decide.

Cock is an accomplished trek into a well-groomed performance and culturally loaded play that is worth an audience’s attention. As the play unfolds, it digs deeper and deeper, leaving no character unscathed. Your reviewer leaned ever forward throughout so as not to miss the striking, vivid dialogue and nuanced movements.

And now I am going downstairs to play my very worn vinyl copy of Al Kooper’s “Season of the Witch” and then to YouTube for Donovan’s original version.

(Note: This production contains strong language and sexual content.)

Photo Gallery

Liesel Allen Yeager (W) and Ben Cole (John) Ben Cole (John), Scott Parkinson (M), and Liesel Allen Yeager (W)
Liesel Allen Yeager (W) and Ben Cole (John)
Ben Cole (John), Scott Parkinson (M), and Liesel Allen Yeager (W)
Ben Cole (John) and Scott Parkinson (M) Liesel Allen Yeager (W), Ben Cole (John), and Scott Parkinson (M)
Ben Cole (John) and Scott Parkinson (M)
Liesel Allen Yeager (W), Ben Cole (John), and Scott Parkinson (M)

Photos by Teddy Wolff

Cast

  • John: Ben Cole
  • M: Scott Parkinson
  • W: Liesel Allen Yeager
  • F: Bruce Dow

Artistic and Design Team

  • Playwright: Mike Bartlett
  • Director: David Muse
  • Set Design: Debra Booth
  • Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
  • Costume Design: Alex Jaeger
  • Sound Design: James Bigbee Garver
  • Dramaturg: Adrien-Alice Hansel
  • Dialect Coach: Ashley Smith
  • Casting Director: Jack Doulin
  • Production Stage Manager: John Keith Hall
  • Technical Director: Robert Shearin

Disclaimer: Studio Theatre provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.

This article can be linked to as: http://showbizradio.com/go/10117.

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