Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Kitchen’s Splendid Cock

cock-1

Cock by Mike Bartlett
Kitchen Theatre, through March 9
(kitchentheatre.org)

Snap! Crackle!

Cock, Mike Bartlett’s mad whirling dervish of sex, betrayal, and shifting choices, has come to the Kitchen in an electrifying production.

Bartlett is part of a new Brit generation wielding their theater chops brashly. Not quite one of the “in yer face” crowd, though he shares their grit and daring, he generally eschews naturalism; he’s closer to Caryl Churchill in grasping for theatrical forms and new language for each play. On the basis of Cock, there are strains of the acid-edged absurbism of Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, as well.

John (Vince Gatton) breaks up with his long-time boyfriend M (Nick Hetherington), and trips into a heated sexual/romantic hook-up with a woman, W (Michelle Luz), that jogs him out of his ennui but into a heady confusion about his identity. So he rebounds to M, but still longs for W, and the two of them zero in on him. Choose, choose, choose they clamor. Who are you? What are you?

While its sting and fascination come from the current zeitgeist, in which sexual identity and gender are proving increasingly fluid and complex, Cock‘s energy rests on a rather traditional formula: it’s a (broken) marriage play. The pressure to choose, the idea that John absolutely has to go with either M or W, is predicated on a quite normal notion of monogamy. On the level of plot, it devolves into a play about adultery and its consequences that Terrence Rattigan might have penned.

Cleverly, Bartlett keeps the play in fast motion, and lines up the scenes like the cockfight this is. One on one with the two boys, flashback: one on one with John and his new girlfriend; then into the triangle; then a complication: four (John’s boyfriend has brought his father, F (Daren Kelly) in for reinforcements (“Well this is a farce now, that’s what this has become. This was serious, now it’s parents and tarts and vicars…” opines John, as the playwright nakedly displays his hand.)

Contrived it might be, but it catches you up, especially in this break-neck paced, sizzling, ripping production. Under Margarett Perry’s taut direction, the three central protagonists etch their struggles and half-broken yet still brewing dreams with juicy, haunting specificity. I found myself shifting my allegiances and found that true of other audience members in fervent after-show discussions.

Gatton plays John as the eternal kid, who wants his lover to take charge, letting him be the guided, the initiated, the desired (the beloved, as the old Greeks would have it.) Gatton is unfraid to make John terribly annoying, but he also locates the naïve, bumbling, loving, idiotic core of someone who thought he had it all figured out when he came out as gay, and now has to juggle it all over again.

Hetherington makes M stolid, butch, caustic, sweet. You can see he is where he wants to be in his life. And the tear in his world leaves Hetherington’s M quivering with fury and despair, a damaged teddy bear who can still show some claws.

Luz’s great skill is to get the audience to root for her. She may be the “ultimate” other woman, but she is fearless in going for what she wants, until she gets it. It’s a sassy, working-class inflected, assertive performance.

Kelly’s F is a bit stilted, but the father is more a device. Kelly provides some great humor, and a solid connection with his son.

The actors stay on a bare stage, in the round (specified in the script), and never remove an article of clothing, while engaging in two sexual encounters that nearly sear the neutral blue paint off the floor. (David Arsenault provides the set and extremely subtle lighting that precedes the play’s pulse, and Perry’s stage movement is peerless.) Lisa Boquist provides the wonderfully unglamorous, off-beat costuming.

It’s a play that barely lets you breathe, and keeps you engaged and thinking. If in the end the writing is more brilliant than the actual result (I don’t think this play will really say much in 50 years), it’s provides a refreshing, exhilarating turn.

Brecht wanted theater to be a boxing match. Bartlett, Perry, designers and cast provide just that. To the finally wrenching TKO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.