Cock. Mike Bartlett’s new play is called Cock. There. I said it. No big deal.
Nearly every major newspaper has been unwilling to print the title, using instead blank fields or a substitute title like Cockfight or The Cockfight Play. But since this review is being written for what I trust is a knowledgeable and mature audience, I’ll call it what it is. With that said and done, let’s move on and actually discuss it.
This 90-minute, four-character comedic drama, which premiered in London in 2009 to sell-out crowds (just as you’d expect with that kind of title), takes a penetrating look at John (Cory Michael Smith), a 29-year-old, very thin English male who has been gay for most of his adult life and is involved with an older man who is simply named M (Jason Butler Harner).
When the two decide to take a break, John is unexpectedly tempted by an attractive woman, appropriately named W (Amanda Quaid), who desperately tries to win him for herself. John is even surprised at how much he enjoys sex with a female.
This leads to an ultimate dinner party scene where M and W fight over John, who seems emotionally paralyzed and unable to make a decision. Oddly enough, M has invited over his father, F (Cotter Smith), who serves as M’s advocate and peppers John with questions.
The play’s penetrating and aggressive qualities have much to do with James Macdonald’s spare, in-the-round staging, which is framed around a wooden cockfighting arena in which the audience sits on very uncomfortable, stadium-style benches.
Since there is little space and no scenery inside of the ring, the cast remains extremely close to the audience. As the setting suggests, M and W are there to fight over John, who is violently torn between them and confused over his own sexuality.
Smith convincingly makes for an open young man whose attractive, youthful looks make him bait for more aggressive partners and sensitivity leads to torturous confusion and self-doubt. Quaid is genuinely touching as a divorcee who is perhaps too strongly attracted and attached to M. Harner stands out with an eccentric, over-the-top performance that brings a healthy dose of humor to this winner-take-all battle.
Just in case you were wondering, there is no nudity. In fact, the play’s title is never even uttered by any of the characters. Hope you’re not disappointed.