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REVIEW: ‘Cock’ fights about desire

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A new drama on bisexuality is staged like a wrestling match at The Duke

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Enjoy watching a good fight? You’ll surely get one with “Cock,” a new play from England that premiered on Thursday at The Duke.

Strikingly staged in very close quarters by director James Macdonald, this engrossing 90-minute comedy-drama about sex (and dare we say love?) centers around a young British guy, John, whose affections suddenly become torn between his long-term boyfriend and a newly-met woman in his life.

Crafting the contemporary story in a dozen brief scenes as the young man ambivalently contends with his conflicting urges, playwright Mike Bartlett swiftly drives the drama towards a nasty showdown at the dinner table between John’s lovers.

These slightly older and perhaps wiser people prove to be manipulative, needy individuals whose heated arguments about sexual preferences reduce John to a quivering mess of uncertainty who crouches on the floor and moans, “I just want to be happy.”

To concentrate the audience’s attention upon the talk, the playwright and the director strip the rudely-titled drama down to bare essentials.

John (Cory Michael Smith) is the only character with a name; the others are identified in the program as M (Jason Butler Harner), presumably for male as the boyfriend; W (Amanda Quaid) as the woman who comes between them; and F (Cotter Smith), who unexpectedly appears for dinner as M’s gay-accepting father dismayed by John’s surprising turnabout. cock2broadway051712_opt

Their occupations, most of their backgrounds and similar realistic details like furniture are omitted by the playwright.

The actors wear the same everyday attire throughout the action, even during the erotic encounter when John and W have sex, which is rendered abstractly as a slowly encircling dance accompanied by intimate verbal interplay.

The play unfolds within a raw wooden arena erected by designer Miriam Buether that situates the actors on green matting in the middle, surrounded by five ascending rows of benches for spectators. (Consumer note: These benches have thin cushions, no backs and scant wriggle-room.) A soft tone is sounded to signal the start of each scene. So the production easily evokes a wrestling match or a cockfight as the characters variously battle out their differences.

All cheekbones and dark-eyed boyishness, Cory Michael Smith’s troubled John is a suitable object of desire both for Jason Butler Harner’s sardonic M and Amanda Quaid’s deceptively forthright W. Cotter Smith quietly communicates F’s utter bewilderment over John’s switch-hitting proclivities.



 

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