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Cock, But No Bull

The original cast of "Cock." (Actors playing John, second from left, and F, far right, have changed.)
The original cast of "Cock." (Actors playing John, second from left, and F, far right, have changed.)
Chicago Theater Beat

Profiles Theatre's "Cock"

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Whoever said love is a battlefield (Jordin Sparks or Pat Benatar; take your pick) was clearly feeling a bit heavy-handed with their metaphors that day.
In fact, love might be more accurately compared to a cockfighting ring – at least, that’s the conceit behind Cock, Mike Bartlett’s astute, evocative, and let’s-not-forget-provocatively-named comedy-drama. After all, when it comes down to it, real love offers no armor, no protection; real love is about facing each other, naked, vulnerable, and occasionally drenched in blood, sweat, and tears.
It is this last state of affairs that the protagonist, John, finds himself in. Having just broken up with his long-time boyfriend, John finds himself falling in love – with a woman. When his boyfriend (known to the audience simply as “M,” for “Male”) decides he wants him back, John finds himself struggling not only between old and new love, but with the identity he’s constructed for himself.
Echoing, both thematically and stylistically, two of the most popular contemporary plays of our time – Peter Shaffer’s Equus and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt – Cock is nevertheless utterly original. The premise, which on the surface sounds a little too of-the-moment, is actually derived from the playwright’s own experiences and is brought to life with striking veracity by a talented cast and crew. Director Darrell W. Cox expertly negotiates two precarious balances: the first is the classic yet ever-challenging coexistence of comedy and drama; the second is stylistic equilibrium necessary to preserve the play’s motif while retaining the gritty realism that makes the characters both empathetic and believable.
He is aided in these endeavors both by both Katie-Bell Springmann’s daring, spot-on set design and a wonderful cast of actors. Jake Szczepaniak is hilarious as the vain ex-boyfriend, a man to whom manipulation comes so naturally, every calculated move seems paradoxically unconscious. Eleni Pappageorge, playing W, is winning as a passionate woman with more insight into human nature than anyone gives her credit for. Torrey Hanson brings rich dimension to the show as M’s loving father and, metaphorically, a representation of the greater society we often (incorrectly) allow to influence us. Last but not least, Nik Kourtis gives an earnest and complex performance as John, capturing both the sheer giddiness of love and the exquisite pain of making decisions for which there is no right answer. While at times the audience grows just as frustrated with John’s vacillation as the two dueling paramours, there is never a moment when his irresolution plays as less than genuine.
In the end, Cock is a laugh-out-loud, intense look at not only the vagaries of modern love but the danger in assigning labels to ourselves, even in the pursuit of creating a secure identity. And above all else, it is a suggestion that, just perhaps, the song had it right – sometimes, we don’t know what it is we’re fighting for.

Cock runs at Profiles Theatre through May 25th. You can purchase tickets here.