Mike Bartlett’s “Cock” at the Studio – Highly Recommended (17 cents)

Is John gay?  Is he heterosexual?  Is he bisexual?  Are these questions that can even be asked?  They certainly aren’t questions that John can answer.

For his entire life, he has had only boy friends.  But then, as he and his live-in boyfriend have a (temporary) spat, he meets a girl.  And he obviously has to decide between them.  But John has a problem: deciding anything is not his strong point.

I have to say that I wasn’t excited about this as a story line.  And I thought he might be exaggerating when David Muse, Artistic Director of Studio, wrote about playwright Mike Bartlett:  “At 33, Mike Bartlett is already one of the leading playwrights in England….The American theatre, however, has been slow to catch on to him.”  I thought that Muse was just trying to be nice.  But I was wrong.

The Brits are right, assuming that “Cock” is a good example of Bartlett’s work.  This dialogue is fast, snappy, funny, biting, clever.  The play is both tragedy and farce, as the battle lines are set.  Everyone will come together to determine who will finally win John’s heart.  But poor John wishes he was two people, sometimes thinks he is, but in fact he’s unconvinced that he is anyone at all.

Now I have to say something about the actors playing the three main characters, Ben Cole playing John, Scott Parkinson playing M (Man) and Liesel Allen Yaeger playing, of course, W (Woman).  They could not be better.  Cole played John Off Broadway.  Parkinson had played the Studio one other time.  Yaeger, new to Washington stages, I think, is a Julliard graduate.

And they have to be good – because there is nothing to rely on.  The stage is round and totally bare (with a sawdust floor).  No flats or walls.  No furniture.  No props.  Just the actors, moving around the stage, sparring with each other, like prize fighters looking to score a punch.  Not even any costumes – yes, the actors are clothed, but as the play moves along, their clothing changes (in your imagination) while it doesn’t change at all (on the stage).

It’s minimalist theatre – in everything but the script, which is anything but.  And it’s fascinating theatre.

And what does John decide?

 

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