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Theatre Review: 'Cock' at Studio Theatre

Ben Cole as John and Scott Parkinson as M
Ben Cole as John and Scott Parkinson as M
Teddy Wolff

'Cock'

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

By Kyle Osborne

The sparse, starkly-lit stage of Cock, Englishman Mike Bartlett’s whip smart play about love, jealousy and heaps of confusion, should have flexible ropes around its perimeter. We are witnessing a boxing match with our two fighters (lovers) bobbing, weaving and displaying non-stop foot work that a heavyweight champ would envy.

In the center of the ring are John (Ben Cole) and M (Scott Parkinson), a couple who love each other the way a lion loves an antelope—with ferocious fangs and bites that are meant to draw maximum blood. That they truly do feel for each other is obvious, but when their inevitable break-up is finalized, John wastes no time in bedding a hot London lass, W (Liesel Allen Yeager). Significantly, this marks his first experience with a woman—a new world has opened up to him. The parts fit in a way he’d never known, and to make things complicated, the two are falling in love.

Complicated because, three weeks later, John and M reconcile. And now we have three in the ring.

What happens next in this pacey one act play is that John becomes a whining, ambivalent cry-baby; does he want to stay with her or go back to him? Does he trade away the shiny and new for the comfortable and familiar? Or…not?

The character’s indecision will drive you crazy, mainly because Bartlett hasn’t shown us why these two smart and attractive people would put up with his bullshit. What is so great about him that they would willingly go through this kind of drama to be with him? It’s a question never satisfactorily answered.

But what fun it is watching these characters throw words across the stage at each other like poisoned-tipped spears. Scott Parkinson pulls you into his acid filled stomach—your flesh burns as you feel his wounded psyche and sense of betrayal. His part requires that he keep his shit together, for the most part, while walking on hot coals, trying to get to the end and back again.

I am failing to mention how funny this play is, too. In the final quarter, actor Bruce Dow enters as M’s supportive father. He’s come to a dinner where John, accompanied by his girlfriend, will decide with whom he wants to stay. Dow’s brilliantly earnest delivery earns its own chuckles, but the whole play merges into Farce at this point—like an episode of “Frasier,” if the characters had been portrayed as gay (c’mon, we know they were). It’s the very definition of “comic relief.”

You don’t have to like the characters in order to enjoy a play, of course. And in Cock that is great news. One more minute of John’s inability to answer a question with a simple “yes” or “no” and I was going to rush the stage and grab him by the lapels. As security would have tackled me by the ankles, briskly carrying me to the exit, I’d have been shouting, “Dude, just make up your f*cking mind!”

COCK continues at Studio Theatre through June 22nd. For tickets and more information visit http://www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/cock