Chicago Theater Review: COCKED (Victory Gardens Biograph Theater)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: COCKED (Victory Gardens Biograph Theater)

by Lawrence Bommer on February 20, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


A clumsy comedy about our gun-crazed nation, Cocked packs heat but no warmth. Glib, slick and slippery, Sarah Gubbins’ world premiere from Victory Gardens Theater proves there are worse things than ignoring the arming of America. Far more bogus is to trivialize the subject by reducing it to a screaming sitcom.

Patrese D. McClain

Cocked (its smarmy title suggesting sex as much as a hair-trigger temper) is a devious concoction that wants to have it both ways. (The usual sleazy excuse, of course, for this kind of dishonesty is to stir up a debate. It won’t wash.) Gubbins’ 90-minute one-act is about so many things—lesbian lovers coping with jealousy and ideological differences, emotional blackmail, the challenge of enduring a slacker brother, pets as nuisances or protectors, and the too-easy escalation of urban violence as threats turn to self-fulfilling slaughter—that it’s about nothing. Which is why Joanie Schultz’s rampaging staging is so defensively manic. Maybe, if energy can replace content, the audience won’t ask questions.

Mike Tepeli, Patrese D. McClain, Kelli Simpkins

The setting is a trendy apartment in Andersonville occupied, uncertainly, by a pressure-cooker lawyer named Tyler (Kelli Simpkins, channeling Ellen DeGeneres) and her journalist girlfriend Izzie (Patrese D. McClain, blustering beautifully). Pacifist minded and liberal, these archetypal gun-haters encounter a live-in nemesis with the unsought arrival of Tyler’s feckless druggie brother Frank (Mike Tepeli, salt-of-the-earth stupid). This major loser, however, can be big in one way: A born again fear-monger, Frank packs a rod, so death “has his back.”

Kelli Simpkins, Mike Tepeli, Patrese D. McClain (2)

It’s not enough for this goofball, a nitwit handyman, to destroy their bathroom with his inept and unwanted “remodeling.” No, he has to blackmail his unfaithful sister into letting him stay and, worse, persuade her lover to get a gun and, even worse, invent a reason to use it. Casual mischief is not enough for Frank: He creates a fait accompli that leads to a poorly lit, smoke-ridden, gun-blazing ending that’s intentionally and maddeningly cut off and unfinished. Depending on our beliefs about self-protection or vigilante violence, the audience decides who got shot in the dark and who got saved. It’s a craven cop-out from a gutless comedy.

Mike TepeliThe reason for Gubbins’ manufactured mayhem is Ron, an unseen and supposedly unstable neighbor who writes nasty notes. He’s a seemingly harmless crackpot with whom the ladies have had run-ins over his barking dog. So we’re not talking about encroaching crime in this North Side neighborhood. The answers are not target practice and abundant ammo.

Frank is adept in panic peddling. He parlays Ron’s apparent hostility into pure paranoia. In a speech practically penned by the NRA, this gun nut convinces Izzie that you better get a deadly and loaded weapon because everyone else has in this “war zone” called Chicago–“and you’ll be outnumbered ten to one!” if you don’t. (A public service announcement couldn’t be more blatant.) As if to even this heavy-handed and one-sided argument, Gubbins throws in that deafening and unresolved finale, a contrived combination of the Iroquois Theatre fire, the great East Coast blackout, and the showdown at the OK Corral.

Kelli Simpkins, Mike Tepeli, Patrese D. McClain

But a strong show isn’t built from shock effects or even soap opera secrets: It comes from convincing characters to persuade an audience. Here we just get mail-order stereotypes, like the by-the-numbers lawyers who believes the criminal justice system can fight crime better than civilians, a blue-collar Rambo aching to kill animals or people, or the ambivalent African-American self-made victim who’s literally caught in the crossfire.

Kelli Simpkins and Mike Tepeli

The result is a poor man’s Fargo. The plotting just isn’t wily enough. The characters are so poorly or ambiguously motivated that they’re only “position paper” people, about as actual and arbitrary as an anecdote.

Mike Tepeli, Kelli Simpkins

Cocked comes nowhere near to addressing the real crisis of innocent people mowed down by available guns—or, contrariwise, courageous citizens repelling armies of thugs that cops supposedly can’t handle and who right now are lurking outside our apartments in corridors crowded with criminals. (Choose your adventure.) Better no play on the subject that this condescending and meretricious intelligence-insulter.

Kelli Simpkins, Patrese D. McClainphotos by Michael Courier

Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 3 & 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on March 13, 2016
for tickets, call 773.871.3000
or visit Victory Gardens

for more theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.