Entertainment » Theatre

Cock

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 16, 2014
Rebecca Mozo, Patrick Stafford, Matthew Elkins, and Gregory Itzin
Rebecca Mozo, Patrick Stafford, Matthew Elkins, and Gregory Itzin  (Source:John Flynn)

Also known as "Cockfight Play," a perhaps less threatening title preferred in some media outlets, Mike Bartlett's Olivier Award winning British play, "Cock," makes its L.A. debut in a taut and terrific staging.

Produced by the ever-adventurous Rogue Machine company, under the assured direction of Cameron Watson, this staging offers ample evidence why the London and New York productions of this bold work have generated enthusiastic buzz, as the play examines complexities of sex and emotional commitment in the modern age.

At once playful and unnerving, Bartlett's intelligent seriocomedy focuses on a bisexual triangle as the playwright tunes into the psyches and emotional equilibriums of four characters whose inter-relationships are abruptly turned topsy-turvy by an unexpected romantic attraction. We're light years away from the still-great 1971 John Schlesinger film "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in a play that tunes into 21st-century mores and carnal/romantic relationships with up-to-the minute immediacy and fierce intelligence.

There's an absurdist hint of Samuel Beckett in the offbeat structure and off-kilter mood of this play, which is presented with virtually no scenery or props in Stephen Gifford's aptly stark design. The action quickly conveys the metaphor of a brutal cockfight as a sort of marital dance-of-death worthy of August Strindberg among characters who tensely circle the bare-bones playing area during alternating rounds of direct face-offs and retreats, imparting a ritualistic feel.

Except for the pivotal character, a young man named John (Patrick Stafford), the characters are identified symbolically by letters. M (Matthew Elkins), for man, is John's elder longtime lover. W (Rebecca Mozo) is a woman whom M meets, posing a threat to the love relationship between John and M. F (Gregory Itzen) is the father of M, summoned by M for moral support during a dinner engagement in which John will introduce M to W.

It doesn't take long to realize that when John met W, this sparked his dormant sexual attraction to women, setting in place a tortuous dilemma for him that is to grow increasingly painful as the play progresses. He finds himself ensnared in the middle of an emotional tug-of-war with his male lover, while W struggles to secure her own turf -- what appears to be a promising relationship with John. Meanwhile F looks out for the best interests of his son, M, while trying to understand the labyrinth of conflicts that unfolds during the dinner party.

Bartlett looks at the issues of love and sexuality -- gay, straight, or bisexual -- through the broad prism of a strong drive to control and possess others and to define one's own identity by the people to whom we feel strongly attached. The insecurities, fears, ups and downs and possible descents into desperation that can accompany strong human bonds are explored through dialogue that often talks around conflicts of the characters more than specifying them.

Bartlett looks at the issues of love and sexuality -- gay, straight, or bisexual -- through the broad prism of a strong drive to control and possess others and to define one's own identity by the people to whom we feel strongly attached.

The playwright's conceit thus poses a challenge to the actors to communicate multiple layers of meaning and emotion to the words and actions, and to impart a sense of dramatic progression, while the director orchestrates and unifies their efforts.

To Watson's credit, he never allows the 90-minute play to feel circuitous or repetitive, as the individual journeys of the characters gradually coalesce into a moving and thought-provoking exploration of humans staking out and defining their own emotional identity, while trying to connect with others.

As the play moves toward its climax, the key question becomes whether John will decide to accept the new adventure and promise offered by creating a bond with W, or stick to the tried and mostly true emotional security of a life with M, despite its imperfections and compromises.

Stafford superbly conveys the conflicted emotions of John, while Elkins masters M's mounting sense of desperation and his penchant for subtle or not-so-subtle manipulation. As the catalytic character W, Mozo goes beyond being the extra spoke on a wheel to illuminate this woman's own personal awakening and yearning for fulfillment.

Itzin is funny and endearing as the open-minded but somewhat befuddled patriarch, watching this comedy of errors move toward a bittersweet portrait of emotional chaos. There are moments when the wry humor suggests a bisexual "The Fantasticks," reset in the 21st century.

Bartlett's play is a stirring work exploring mysteries of the heart and the mind, and the Rogue Machine production hits its myriad notes with grace and profundity.

"Cock" runs through Nov. 3 at Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., in L.A. For tickets or information, call 855-585-5185 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

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