Theater/Film Review: COCK (Studio Theatre in D.C.)

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by Tony Frankel on March 27, 2021

in Film,Theater-Regional,Virtual

I FOUND THE PERFECT COCK.
NOW SEE IF YOU CAN TAKE IT.

D.C.’s Studio Theatre production of Cock is a most successful outing in the world of pandemic theater — that which is filmed as a theater piece but without an audience, and with actors at a physical distance. While COVID-19 has halted live theater for now, these streaming plays are to be notated as a proving ground for the day when theaters begin streaming LIVE theater as a way to make an ever-struggling art form more profitable. (Regardless over the argument of theater as an ephemeral art, I promise it’s coming; the only road block, as usual, will be unions.) Studio Artistic Director David Muse is responsible for deftly fusing these two worlds with split-screens, close-ups, and overhead shots.

Cock works especially well because the Mike Bartlett play concerning a character’s bisexual and relationship ambivalence is to be played in the round, like a wrestling match or cockfight (and Studio’s brick walls and exposed wooden studs make for a perfect back-alley atmosphere, where such events would take place). Cameras record around the circular set, which is covered in dirt with the actors barefoot, as if we were sitting in bleachers around the stage. While I think there’s a dip in the immediacy of live theater here, this terrific production proves once and for all, when there is a great script, great acting, and great direction, you don’t need furniture, props and set pieces.

John (Queer As Folk‘s Randy Harrison, showing a completely different set of chops than in the National Tour of Cabaret) is a sexually ambiguous millennial who strays from his abusive homosexual relationship with the older M (a vulnerably bitchy Scott Parkinson) to experience a more nurturing affair with W (glowing, forceful and lovely Kathryn Tkel), a female in his own age bracket. Is John gay, straight, bi or simply confused? Furthermore, in today’s more permissive and accepting society is it even necessary to attach a label at all? Can any one person meet all the needs of another? Why do we love the ones we love?

Bartlett’s brilliant 100-miute one-act does a great job of addressing all of these questions and dives deep into the truth of what it is to love and be loved without becoming preachy or condescending. With the exception of a mercifully brief sojourn into scientific proselytizing (it’s in the genes), the British playwright sticks to the human needs of the characters whatever their sexual proclivities might be. He even explores unconditional parental love when he introduces M’s father F (a keenly understated Alan Wade) into the arena during a pivotal dinner scene where the quartet basically consumes one another as the main course.

Expect stunning and electric acting from these four well-honed pugilist-performers. Harrison’s winsomely romantic uncertainty is the perfect foil for Parkinson’s quick-silver, spitfire put-downs and zingers, with Tkel properly peaceful yet pushy and provocative as the odd girl out and Wade likably loyal as the dad who goes way beyond accepting his son’s homosexuality.

screenshots courtesy of Studio Theatre

Cock
Studio Theatre in D.C.
streaming on-demand through April 18, 2021
for tickets (5-Play Digital Subscriptions $220, single tickets $37), visit Studio

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