Cock – No Slow Poke

Photo_1_-_Cock

Cock, Photo Credit: Tessa Sollway Photography

A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS

When I saw the title of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s newest show, Cock, by Mike Bartlett, I thought. Well. That’s…eye-catching. And then I thought: “So, what is this play about?  Is it about cock?  Because if it is, I’m totally there!”.  In this, I was a little disappointed because no, it’s not about cock. The full title of the play, BTW, is Cock (or The Cockfight Play). Bartlett is British, yes, and “cock” can mean many things, especially across the pond, true, but this is still not an accurate first impression. The show isn’t really a cold-hearted, blood-splattered cockfight. But don’t let the title throw you for a loop or dissuade you from attending this stellar piece of comedy-tragedy theatre. FPCT has hit the mark once again with this heart-wrenching show.

Cock plays (#YAS, thanks TBO for letting me say cock so often in one review! [We’ll see, Achilles, at some point I’m going to have to cut you off. – TBO]) at Fells Point Corner Theatre from November 20th – December 20th. John (David Shoemaker) is a conflicted, younghotthing who temporarily breaks it off with his slightly older, yet disarmingly smoking, boyfriend, M (Donald Charles). During their brief downtime, John meets W (Barbara Madison Hauck), which totally throws him for a loop. John is (mostly) gay, but oh, Mylanta, he’s suddenly a smitten kitten for W! John goes back and forth between M and W, telling a white lie here, covering up a misstep there. Finally M throws out the real curve – he wants to meet W over dinner to “see what she’s like.” Well why not!  How civilized! To keep even more balls in his court, M invites F (Thom Peters), M’s father, over too.  Things get a bit cray-cray in the Department of Dysfunctional Dinners, as you’d imagine, and there is a lot to take in as everybody is tries to figure out this convoluted situation. Everyone but John, that is, he’s more confused and conflicted than me at the bar deciding between a martini with olives or a martini with onions (gin, thanks, and onions, when available, almost always win). The play turns into a flip-flop emotional roller coaster for M & W as they argue their respective cases for John’s affections. It’s a very sad scene as John tries to divine who he wants to be with when he really just wants the best of both worlds. In the end, we get something, though I’m not quite sure it is an actual decision on anybody’s part.

Okay, so let’s talk about how superb this writing is. Cock was written for British audiences but works fantastically Over Here as well. While it’s is billed as a comedy, and there are quite a few (very good, well timed and delivered) laughs, the show as a cohesive whole isn’t really funny at all. It’s basically some fucked up shit. We see a power struggle that is at times is tender and, at other moments, manifests as full-out emotional abuse. John’s subconscious is a train wreck of self-doubt, delusion, and inexperience, but he’s strangely zen in moments of heated battle. He may come off as unintelligent but some of his ignorance is for show and we get that he understands a lot more than M & W think. Is this a “gay play”?  Well, no, and anyway, what the fuck is that?  Sure, the play has a gay themes, but it’s refreshing and accessible no matter your pants feelings. Everyone has been there, struggling with conflict, power, identity, and self-worth. Everything sticks, and where there’s an odd cultural reference or two, Bartlett gives you context. The dialog is naturalistic and, while there are heaps of jokes to lighten the mood, the action and flow feel real, thriving, and organic. While the comparison might seem like a jab, this play’s story arc is like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure text game. You never really know what’s around the corner. The show meanders while keeping you thoroughly entertained, vividly believable yet wildly unpredictable. When was the last time somebody surprised you with an out of character decision?

I am told that Bartlett’s script contains no stage directions, but director Steve Goldklang nailed them anyway. Totally nailed them, especially on the acting. I”ll say this though: with such an amazingly talented cast, I doubt it was too difficult. The emotions and motivation was clear on every single one of these actor’s faces and in their body language. I especially love how deeply honest and moving Shoemaker is. By the final scene I was practically in tears and def wanted to give John a hug. Hauck’s W has an astounding reveal that she plays terrifically, not just with her fabulously good looks and killer hips (bitch! KISSES), but with how she carries herself just prior. Charles is passionate, swapping between controlling and loving at the drop of a hat. His performance is terrifying, and real, and honest, and heartbreaking. I love how much I believed every word that came out of his mouth. His final scene with John…mmm, mmm, mmm. Jaw dropping. Peters, is hand-to-heart dad. Not a father, but a dad. He’s got a difficult series of scenes to navigate and he does it with grace. All four of ’em pull off a fairly consistent English accent, too, not perfect, but not distracting, either.

This play’s set (Roy Steinman) was stripped bare, leaving the focus on the acting and words. The sterility of the completely white stage is brave, brave enough to almost work. Almost. The painting treatment of the two chickens is a bit too literal, but, you know, I get it. The nonchalant prop and costume miming was fun, clearly Goldklang knows that we don’t give a shit that there isn’t a glass of water in his hand because we’re wrapped up in the thousand fucking feelings we’re experiencing. Lighting by Stanley Kudzin unfortunately missed the mark, though. A large shadow directly down center was annoying as fuck. His use of color on a white set also didn’t do it for me but ya’ll know I’m picky when it comes to lighting. I could see most things, so it is what it is.

The Bottom Line:  I’m crushing hard on Fells Point Corner. This is the second show in a row (and second to star David Shoemaker, I might add) that I’m simply splooshing over. Their recent work is really hitting the Achilles Feel’s mark. Cock is fresh, real, accessible, well written, extraordinarily acted, purposefully directed, and hella dramatic, so, if that’s a gay comedy, give me a gay comedy!  You gotta go.

Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre until December 20th

SECOND OPINION?

‘Cock (or The Cockfight Play)’ at Fells Point Corner Theatre

Email Achilles Feels at achillesfeels@gmail.com

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