Review: Cock (Studio 180 Theatre)

Cock

Studio 180 presents the Canadian premiere of Cock a new play by Mike Bartlett Toronto’s Theatre Centre

Studio 180 Theatre is known for producing thought-provoking works with social and political significance. Following their recent productions Clybourne Park which touches on race and neighbourhood gentrification, and The Normal Heart which traces the early politics of the AIDS crisis, the company is presenting the Canadian premiere of Cock, a new play by prolific British playwright Mike Bartlett that takes on bisexuality.

Not as salacious as the provocative title might suggest, but nonetheless compelling, Cock is the story of John (Andrew Kushnir), an average, utterly unremarkable, 20-something man. John is in a tumultuous relationship with his boyfriend, referred to in the script only as M, as in Male (Jeff Miller). John breaks up with said boyfriend and subsequently falls in love with a woman, similarly referred to only as W (Jessica Greenberg). John is incredibly conflicted, he loves both M and W and struggles to choose which one he’ll end up with.

Bartlett’s sharply written script is accentuated by an efficient, minimalist staging. The performance takes place on a bare space without sets, props, costume changes or shifts in lighting. The audience is seated in the round and I loved the proximity we have to the action; no seat is more than five meters from the stage. From that distance you can really feel the energy of the performance.

The layout effectively creates a cockfighting ring and the motif carries throughout the staging; the movement design has actors in opposition to each other. They occasionally approach, circle or lunge at each other and an old, tinny bell sound effect signifies the start of each subsequent round of sparring.

The show consists of a series of fast-paced, punchy, back-and-forth dialogues as M and W compete for John’s heart and mind. Much like in a prize fight scenario I found myself rooting for either M or W at different points in the show. They’re pretty evenly matched and I suspect that each audience member will relate to one or the other based on their own personal relationship baggage.

Joel Greenberg’s tight direction combines with the ensemble’s gutsy, committed and consistently strong performances to elevate Bartlett’s script. The rhythm, timing and energy level of the show is spot-on throughout even as the script start to waver and feel drawn out near the end of the 95 intermissionless minutes.

A play like Cock is timely and relevant. Even nowadays it’s rare to see a play featuring a bisexual lead character, especially male bisexual leads. The conversation around bisexuality is coming to a head. A recent New York Times Magazine cover story looked at bisexual activists who are fighting against skepticism and stigma that comes with identifying as bi.

While I think Cock is a good conversation-starter as it brings some visibility to bisexuality, I can’t help but think that bisexuals might take umbrage to the characterization of John as confused, indecisive and wishy-washy.

Indeed, there’s much more to be explored around the topics of bisexuality, polyamoury and the sexual orientation binary and this play only scratches the surface. Luckily, the company is hosting a series of pre-show chats, post-show talkbacks and discussion panels including one titled COCKTALES: Stories, perspectives and conversations beyond sexual binaries that takes place Sunday, April 13 at 3:30PM and will be hosted by Mooney on Theatre’s own Dorianne Emmerton.

All sexual politics aside, go see Cock. It’s a masterful staging of a compelling new script featuring some brilliant performances.

Details:

  • Cock is playing from April 4 – 27, 2014 at the The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $25 – $30
  • Tickets are available online at studio180theatre.com or by phone at 416-872-1212.

Photo of Jessica Greenberg and Andrew Kushnir by Mike Bartlett.

2 thoughts on “Review: Cock (Studio 180 Theatre)”

  1. A play written a few years ago by a British playwright, quite obviously a gay dude.

    It’s a story of two gay men, one nice but weak and the other non-so-nice but strong. (Overtly strong not truly strong; mean)

    Then one of the gay males admits to sleeping with a new female friend.

    The one character starts into a tirade spewing hatred about women.

    Gay men being misogynistic is bad enough but not for the writer and cast of this bit of trash who needed to take it further … Into the arena of poor taste.

    They decide to start in on Transgendered women. On stage, “tranny” tirade ….. I was stunned.

    Regardless of your “gay artsy credentials” …. not ok to use that slur.

    The more accurate title should have been : “Self indulgent gay male shit, that nobody wants to hear anymore.”

    The end of the play which came 45 minutes too late was like watching a slow bus with wobbly wheels …. Guess what the weak gay guy becomes the victim and the stronger gay guy wins but is also hurt …. stunningly boring.

  2. From Melissa’s comment above, it’s obvious that she did not understand the essence of the play. Her comment reveals her own prejudices and her lack of compassion for people she considers weak.

    The play is tightly written, intense, and the acting is superb.

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