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STT's Cock gripping, provocative, gender comedy

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Cock

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Despite its numerous strengths (which are considerable) Mike Bartlett’s Cock, a comedy concerning gender-identity and sexual behavior, would seem to be informed by a disingenuous ambivalence. I’m unsure whether this strategy is sound or flawed. Whether Mr. Bartlett is cheating or experimenting. The difference between debate and dialectic is simple. Debate uses argument to determine dominance, by toting up points. Dialectic uses argument as a tool for uncovering truth. For all its frankness, Cock seems to be a debate disguising itself as dialectic. Questions only lead to more questions. Bartlett’s beliefs seem to contradict his protagonist’s. John says (essentially) he’s less concerned with his lover’s anatomy than what they bring to the attachment. Bartlett seems to think that the chemistry of what happens between men makes nurturing impossible. If you couple with another man, there will always be tension, with a woman you will get perpetual, sublime bliss. Whether sex with a member of one’s own gender is qualitatively different from heterosex is really not the same as asking if what we’re receiving from a particular partner is desirable or healthy. I’m not sure Bartlett concedes that distinction.

When Cock begins, John and M (male spouses together for 10 years) are discussing a collision which M has walked away from, exhilarated and unscathed. John uses this incident as an opportunity to describe them as “fundamentally different persons.” They take a time-out from each other, John comes back, they reconcile. Next we see John together with W, a bright, attractive, sincere divorcee. Eventually they make love. To his amazement, female genitalia is not repugnant. His epiphany, that sex with the other gender is pleasurable and not icky, has left him in a quandary. John desires them both. It was a bit unclear to me if John and W consummated while he was still on the outs with M, but I believe that’s the idea. In an ill-advised attempt to focus and elucidate a possible solution (and force John to make a decision) W suggests the three have dinner together. Unbeknownst to John, M invites his dad (F) for moral support and advocacy. The dinner is a fiasco, considering the animosity, and lack of resolution.

Red flags emerge throughout the show : M describing his intersection with W as “the ultimate bitch fight” (ugh!) the use of a Boxing Match Bell to divide scenes in the first act, the drawing of chalk boundaries that overlap and separate, the vindictiveness M and his dad exhibit towards W, the father’s repeated admonition to John to “decide who you are” as opposed to deciding what he wants. Does who we have sex with really define who we are? Is love actually about fighting to keep someone we care for from going to someone else? We must bear in mind that Bartlett depicts both relationships in pugilistic terms, though in the second act, when all the characters converge, he steps away from that.

Cock’s execution is meticulous, very witty, riveting, revealing, fresh and undeniably thought-provoking. In content it feels messy and sloppy and conflicted (just like “real life”?). M and W say they want John to make a decision, but really, tacitly, only if he picks them. John can’t bear the idea of hurting either one, but their demands make the possibility of seeing them both, separately, out of the question. If you love someone wouldn’t you rather see them happy than subdued? The pared-down, minimal use of sets and props (chalk lines, chairs and a hanky?) suggest a distillation of the male-female dynamics involved, but I’m not sure that’s the result. These are painful, profoundly emotional issues, and there were times I wondered if Bartlett was seeking truth by carefully evoking the forces at work, or slipping in his own slant under the guise of an unlikely scenario. It’s acceptable to leave us with questions, if the writer truly believes there are no clear answers.

There is much to recommend Cock, it’s deliriously amusing and surprising, and brimming with anger and grief. The cast is impeccable, and, considering the grueling, high octane ordeals, astonishing. Justin Locklear brings a more comical, impetuous tone to the role of John than Joey Folsom (from the staged reading at Uptown’s LGBT Festival) and Blake Hackler as M, is powerful and seductive. Intelligent, volcanic, beguiling. Danielle Pickard as W is just the right balance of warmth, conviviality and frustration and Robert Ousley as the father (F) gave the tumultuous battle context, wisdom and humanity. Director Alex Organ brought sophistication and finesse to this contained chaos, this cyclonic, febrile bedroom farce.

Second Thought Theatre presents Mike Bartlett’s Cock, playing : January 29th-February 22nd, 2014. Bryant Hall next to Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75219-5598. 866-811-4111. 2TT.co

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