Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: 'Cock' aka the 'Cockfight Play' at the Duke on 42nd St

(photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
‘Cock’ is such a provocative title that it automatically sets up the audience to see a certain kind of play that lives up to its name. Though in the family-friendly press the unofficial title of the ‘Cockfight Play’ has been adopted there is nothing vulgar presented on stage. There are no titillating moments. What author Mike Bartlett has devised instead is a battle of words and wits between a man, his gay partner and his female lover. Things get more complicated when the partner’s father appears late in the 90-minute one-act opus.

These characters battle and argue so it is befitting the entire play takes place in an arena. The audience sits coliseum-style surrounding all of the action where they not only experience the performance but also the reactions of fellow spectators sitting across them as the stage lighting bleeds over the audience.

Director James MacDonald continues the tradition of setting the play with no scenery or props in a tight-fitting space, the actors all in contemporary dress and performing with British accents. But it is in Bartlett’s words and intimate scenes and the strength of each actor’s performance that we can feel ever-changing emotions to their predicament that we envision not the arena but the environs in which they enter. In our mind’s eye we see the home and dinner party at which they are hosts and guests.

Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid and Cory Michael Smith.
(production photos: Joan Marcus)
Cory Michael Smith, Cotter Smith, Jason Butler Harner and Amanda Quaid.
Side note. The coliseum-style seating is rather clever but uncomfortable. Though the play lasts an hour-and-a-half I was thankful I had a seat on the highest and farthest row where the wall served as a seatback. However seat cushions are provided for everyone.

The play stars Cory Michael Smith as John (the only character with a name) who is torn between his love for “M” (Jason Butler Harner) and “W” (Amanda Quaid). Completing the equation is “F” (Cotter Smith) who is the father of “M”. They all appear civil but the lingual fireworks soon begin to explode in continuous bursts. The actors do not touch or embrace and are often at odds along the edges of the stage as they move round the perimeter almost always facing each other across the floor with darting eyes. There is no nudity in the play but the characters are made to bear their souls.

Jason Butler Harner and Cory Michael Smith
Smith has the unlikely appearance to be the romantic object of “M”. He possesses a lanky build, a youthful charm and often-immature attitude. A choice has to be made and he cannot make it for himself waiting for the others to make the choice for him. The role of John will likely elicit strong opinion as the indecisive instigator of the evening’s events. However Smith harnesses the role so the audience is never quite tipped over to only sympathize or dislike him.

The obsession that “M” has for John is understandable. He thought he had found love that had long been lost to him and he cannot bear being alone. He is not willing to wait and hope and search to move on and find another partner. As played by Harner in the showiest role he is willing to inflict verbal wounds at every opportunity.

Quaid holds her own as the only the female in the play caught between the two men. Smith, though first appearing very late in running time, brings a voice of reason. He is the supportive dad willing to be there if things do not go in his son’s favor.

They all argue the same points over and over again but without the feel of being repetitive. At moments funny, touching and dramatic the play reminds us that we’ve all been made at one time to choose between people, things or situations. When it is a choice between two people for which one feels a deep love, the play ultimately asks us how can the decision be made. But when that choice is finally made who then is actually happy in this sexual power play.

The DETAILS
  • Website: cockfightplay.com
  • Where: The Duke on 42nd Street
  • Location: 229 West 42n Street
  • When: Tue-Fri 8pm; Sat 2:30pm & 8pm; Sun 3pm & 7pm
  • Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
  • Ticket Prices: $79.50-$89.50 (premium $99.50)
  • Opening: May 17, 2012 (previews from May 1, 2012)
  • Closing: Oct 7, 2012
  • Book Online: dukeon42.org
  • Ticket Services: 646-223-3010

Jason Butler Harner and Cory Michael Smith
Cory Michael Smith and Amanda Quaid


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