Chicago Theater Review: COCK (Profiles Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 21, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

A SEXUAL CAGE FIGHT

The punning title—Cock—is a heavy clue on what to expect. From the moment you enter, you know you won’t confuse this 80-minute tour de theatre with anything else. Profiles Theatre’s auditorium has been transformed into a cock-fighting amphitheater: Three rows of unpainted wooden bleachers hang above a “cock pit,” one designed for human combatants, filled with wood chips and surrounded by corrugated aluminum siding. Voyeuristic to a fault, set designer Katie-Bell Sprigmann’s literal pit of iniquity seems more suitable to a Mexican crime scene or a WWF cage fight. It fits the show like a boxing glove.

Jake Szczepaniak and Christopher Sheard in Profiles Theatre’s production of COCK.Fully charged in Darrell Cox’s manic, no-holds-barred Midwest premiere, British playwright Mike Bartlett’s 2009 one-act depicts a war not just between the sexes but within them: Four fierce antagonists crouch and spar, engaged in forensic dialogues as energetic as any wrestling match or dirty dog-fighting á la Michael Vick. The battle is for the body and soul of handsome young John (Christopher Sheard), a presumably gay Londoner who’s been living with his controlling but devoted boyfriend M (Jake Szczepaniak) in unwedded non-bliss. (Interestingly, the men’s hair is teased up to resemble the red combs of fighting cocks.) Just to remind him why he needs M, John asks him to undress: That’s a sad, sure sign that there’s a “gap” between them that’s about to break every bond.  And what is John’s warily defensive, intellectually insecure argument for a change? Who I sleep with is more important than what.

Christopher Sheard and Eleni Pappageorge in Profiles Theatre’s production of COCK.Into this “arena” enters W (Eleni Pappageorge), a comely young woman who John at first sees as “manly” (his way of justifying the attraction to a hostile M). Her sympathy touches John (occasionally, her body does as well) in ways that M does not. M gives him “water when he wants beer” or a “house without stuff.” But W is different: Partial nudity inevitably ensues. Clearly, something’s missing, even if John denies he’s bi-sexual.

A kind of visceral exaggeration of Showtime’s wonderful Masters of Sex series, this go-for-broke grudge match gets played out in “rounds” (separated by a bell) that chronicle the tug of war for cute, confused John. Inevitably John finally introduces W to M and a bitch fight erupts in all directions. Adding to the mayhem, M has brought along his very accepting dad F (Larry Neumann, Jr.) to defend his son’s right to love John without competition from the wrong sex. “You’re confused” is the kindest thing F can say to the wandering John.

Eleni Pappageorge, Christopher Sheard, Jake Szczepaniak and Larry Neumann, Jr. in Profiles Theatre’s production of COCK.It would be folly to spoil the show by disclosing John’s “lady-or-the-tiger” decision. But, like the very conditional resolution in Goodman Theatre’s Luna Gale, it’s as satisfactory as the situation allows. The real payoff is electric acting from these four well-honed pugilist-performers. Sheard’s winsomely romantic uncertainty is the perfect foil for Szczepaniak’s quick-silver, spitfire put-downs and zingers, with Pappageorge properly pushy and provocative as the odd girl out and Neumann likably loyal as the dad who goes way beyond accepting his son’s homosexuality. Game on!

photos by Michael Brosilow

Cock
Profiles Theatre
The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway
scheduled to end on April 6, 2014
EXTENDED to June 29, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 549-1815 or visit www.profilestheatre.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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