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Review: Cock teases with clever humour

If there’s anything more crazy-making than my own dithering indecision, it’s watching someone else’s dithering indecision.
cock
Left to right: Duncan Fraser, Shawn Macdonald and Donna Soares appear in Rumble Theatre’s production of Cock, written by 2010 Olivier Award-winner Mike Bartlett.

If there’s anything more crazy-making than my own dithering indecision, it’s watching someone else’s dithering indecision.

In Cock, written by 2010 Olivier Award-winner Mike Bartlett, John (Nadeem Phillip) — the only character who has a name — has been living with M (Shawn Macdonald) for seven years, but they’ve been taking a break. Why? We’re not told but we have a pretty good idea: M is a condescending, patronizing prick — albeit charming, funny and, apparently, a great cook.

During their hiatus, John has sex one night with W (Donna Soares). And then he does it again. He thinks he might be in love with her. But he’s already in love — he thinks — with M. What’s a gay guy to do?

Bartlett’s script is very hip and witty and holds some wonderfully entertaining incongruences. M’s father F (Duncan Fraser), for example, having reconciled himself to his son’s homosexuality, fiercely defends M and John’s relationship against the threat W poses. The possibility of John actually being a heterosexual is completely rejected by F.

Another lovely twist is F’s arguments that John can’t “choose” to be heterosexual: sexual preference is genetic, he argues. But, as it turns out, that’s exactly what John has done. He simply drifted into being gay and enjoyed being told how brave he was coming out of the closet. John is one very needy guy, a will-o’-the-wisp who goes wherever the winds blow him. He has no idea who or what he is. And he can’t make up his mind.

When M sets up a dinner party for the three of them to sort things out and, hopefully, for him to win John back, M also — surprisingly — invites his father. During the evening the old guy is downright rude to W and she, at first hoping for civility, eventually pulls out her claws.

It gets nasty. It’s a cockfight. Double entendre fully intended.

Directed by Stephen Drover for Rumble Theatre, Cock is staged by Shizuka Kai in the round in a circle of light. No props. Nothing but actors circling, circling.

It’s laugh out loud funny but eventually the question arises: what does anyone see in John? He’s a wimpy, nervous, needy character who can’t cook and can’t make up his mind. For that matter, what does anyone see in M or W? They’re both manipulative characters with, as far as we can see, no lovable qualities.

So what’s at stake? Great sex? And that leads to the funniest staging of foreplay I’ve ever seen. No clothes come off. There’s no touching. They’re not even close to each other. But, oh, there’s no doubt about what’s going on. Oh. Oh. Oh.

Macdonald’s performance starts off being very arch, very brittle and mannered but when the going gets rough, Macdonald’s M becomes very real, his pain obvious. To the extent he’s capable, he loves John.

Phillip’s performance I found problematic. As the play progressed, his nervous gestures — biting his nails, scrunching his shirt and pants, thrusting out his neck — intensified. I understood that John was conflicted without all exaggerated physicality.

Soares’ character is interesting: we’re onside with W at the beginning but, just like M, she shows her controlling side. What does W want from John? A doormat with benefits?

As M’s father, Fraser is working class, gruff, straight-shooting. As an actor, Fraser is the master of the meaningful grunt; he speaks volumes with a dismissive look, an offhand gesture.

Cock is smart and funny. It teases at the edges of “how do we know who we are.” Who defines us? And what is the fallout if we fail to figure it out? More importantly, to whom are we prey if we just drift along? The likes of M and W? Run, John, run.

For more reviews, go to joledingham.ca