theater (reviews)

review: cock

Cock

Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by James Macdonald
Featuring Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid, Cory Michael Smith, Cotter Smith
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street
May 17, 2012 — July 22, 2012 [extended to October 7, 2012]
production web site
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
May 9, 2012

(L-R) Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid, Cory Michael Smith. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Settle in at the second story performance space at the Duke on 42nd Street for an intermission-less adventure that will take your breath away.  You are in the barest of performance arenas — wood benches in the round, and only the top row with a back to lean on.  Feet of your neighbors behind share the platform you sit on, with only an affixed stadium cushion between your bum and the wood beneath.  All this to say: raw seating, raw performances, raw direction — no fuss, no accoutrements, just the playwright’s words and the director’s vision of action and the actors’  emotion beneath in the splendid Cock.

In Mike Bartlett‘s play, a younger man (John played by Cory Michael Smith) in long term relationship with an older man (M played by Jason Butler Harner) feels hemmed in by their age difference and their banter-over-passion dynamic.  On a relationship break, on his way to finding his young man’s way back into himself, John discovers, to his surprise, a woman (W played by Amanda Quaid) to whom he is sexually attracted.  At a dinner at John and M’s house — we have the sense that M is the owner and John the long time co-habitant — John brings the girlfriend and M invites his father (F played by Cotter Smith).  Father shows support and asks a few questions.  This is the journey of John, the one named character. And we, from our uncomfortable plywood perches in the round watch them watch each other.

This production is masterful and, judging from the fancy actors in my preview audience, drawing great professional collegial support and attention. In the round, in the rough, in street clothes and no props and physical intimacies suggested rather than portrayed — a master class.  Sometimes there are pauses that stretch so long — usually waiting for the immobile, pondering, aching John to make a move, any move — that you want to scream yet you don’t, you wait with the rest of the characters on stage. Riveted.

Tellingly at one point the father character F asks John simply, without recrimination: “Who are you?” He wonders about the mettle of the man, the measure of his character. At another point John asks himself a question of another kind — of himself he asks aloud: “What are you?”  The distinct, parsimoniously phrased queries tells us something about each speaker. And we can’t take our eyes off any of them.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 18, 2012)

2 replies »

  1. Correction July 3, 2012. I initially referred to the production as a “British import”. Playwright, designers, director are indeed British while the actors are all American and new to the current production. I confused several thoughts in my initial wording of that thought back in May. We’ll now just reference “this production” and I’ll reiterate: see it.

  2. Incisively Martha captures the tense mood in this master class – as she describes this play.

    In response to John’s question “What are you?” My answer is: a person who does not have a repertoire of
    skills to defend his needs, his thoughts and his actions; all so very available in today’s psychological scenario.

    Felicitas Kort , Venezuelan, Psychologist,
    Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy

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