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‘Cock’ Enters Houston

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The new play by Mike Bartlett makes its regional debut.
by Barrett White

The good bi guy: John (Dain Geist, left) has to decide between W (Haley Hussey, center) and M (Bobby Haworth) in Theater LaB Houston’s production of Cock.
The good bi guy: John (Dain Geist, left) has to decide between W (Haley Hussey, center) and M (Bobby Haworth) in Theater LaB Houston’s production of Cock.

What does a title mean to you? As a consumer of immersive live theater, you arrange a date night on some balmy evening with your main squeeze and make your way to a venue in Houston’s expansive theater community. You purchase your tickets to an Olivier Award-winning London and New York City hit play entitled…Cock.

I’m sorry?

Many readers might assume that the play’s gay subject matter and daring title means they’re in for a raunchy, campy show filled with innuendo and nudity. In reality, Cock is, at its heart, an honest, candid story of two gay men who take a break from one another, and during this break, one of them finds the woman of his dreams.

The New York Times decided to avoid controversy by coyly referring to the 2012 U.S. premiere as “The Cockfight Play,” an appropriate pseudonym when considering the production’s staging: only four actors, no props, no scenery, and lots of verbal stage combat presented on a small, intimate stage with the audience on all four sides—not unlike a cockfighting ring. The play runs on emotion and dialogue in such a way that you won’t miss the familiar presence of stage dressings.

The anchor of the story is John, who has taken a break from M, and unexpectedly found new love with W. Playwright Mike Bartlett’s decision to name two of the characters M and W (as in Man and Woman) draws you deeper into John’s focus on the imminent choice he knows he must make, despite his deep-rooted feelings for both.

With short, powerful lines of dialogue and smart movement, the minimalist play takes you on a 90-minute nonstop trip through various ordeals, culminating in an exquisite masterpiece of a dinner party. None too late, enter F, identified by the initial as M’s Father (or as in “Facilitator,” as he is initiates the powerful conversation at dinner). Ironically enough, it is the one character with a distinguished name who is experiencing an identity crisis.

According to comments posted on the Goodreads website, the artistry of Bartlett’s playwriting goes deeper than what you might initially notice. “I thought M, W, F somehow stood for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

But as we come to know, this is not the case, “Looking back, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday may not have been that far off if we equate what each character represents [in] a lifespan…Monday could stand for the beginning; Wednesday would be half-way, a hump; and Friday, more seasoned, experienced, and near the end of life.”

Whether Bartlett meant for this
to happen or not, his writing prowess
is clear.

Cock never seems to disappoint. While one might expect a forceful, browbeating father interested in preserving traditional values by pushing John to choose W, we are pleasantly surprised to see a father who wants what is best for his son, and for his son to be happy.

“It was not hard to say yes to directing this show,” says director Mark Adams.

Adams was drawn to the show based on his love for great acting and vividly written scripts with poignant, intelligent humor. Cock features characters and plots that are new to live theater. It is so cleverly crafted that the audience will not know how the show ends until it does.

“It’s a brilliant plot,” Adams says.

The original production at London’s Royal Court Theatre won the 2010 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement, along with rave reviews and a long run that included several extensions. The United States premiere in May 2012 received similar acclaim, leading to sold-out audiences for the duration of its New York run.

Often called “unconventional,” “compelling,” and “sophisticated,” the script provides no written stage direction, leaving Adams and his quartet to command the stage with their own interpretations. Daring “bare-bones” dialogue makes for a visceral experience, both for the audience and the actors.

Vibrant theater at its best.

What: Cock regional premiere in Houston, a co-production of Theater LaB Houston and Obsidian Art Space.
When: April 16–May 11
Where: Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Blvd.
Tickets/info: Obsidian Art Space (obsidianartspace.org) or Theater LaB Houston (theaterlabhouston.com).

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Barrett White

Barrett White is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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