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“Cock” Is a Handful for Manbites Dog, But Buy a Ticket, Because There’s Nothing Else Like It

Manbites Dog Theater of Durham will present the regional premiere of "Cock" on Oct. 3-5, 10-13, and 16-19

Manbites Dog Theater of Durham will present the regional premiere of “Cock” on Oct. 3-5, 10-13, and 16-19

Durham’s Manbites Dog Theater, which is known for its edgy — dare I say “controversial” — subject matter has brought us the regional premiere of Cock by British playwright Mike Bartlett. The title alone is enough to make the sensitive squirm, although after viewing the show, I hold to the title being pure shock value. The word is tossed around a couple of times, more derogatorily than anything; and the room is set up in the round, perhaps to symbolize a cockfight arena (there is a bell rung between each scene — or “round” perhaps?) but otherwise, it was over my head.

Cock premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in November 2009, and won the 2010 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in An Affiliate Theatre. The show opened Off Broadway on May 22, 2012; and it took the New York theater scene by storm. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone wanted to see it. My best friend spoke very highly of it, but I never got to see it. Perhaps, one of the reasons it caused such a stir was that it wasn’t your typical “gay play.”

In Cock, two men, M and John (played at Manbites Dog by Gregor McElvogue and Phil Watson, respectively), are in a long-term relationship, but M is several years older than John. They hit a rough patch — or, perhaps, several rough patches — that all culminate in their deciding to take a “break.”

During said break, John meets W (Emma D. Miller), promptly falls in love with her, has sex with her, has a sexual identity crisis about her, and flees back to M. But while back with M, he longs for W, and complicates his situation by leading both of them on.

All of this mayhem culminates into a wonderful confrontation scene that really cooks (kind of literally); but all the while John is stuck in the middle, unable to make a decision about who he is or what he wants. Even the arrival of M’s father, F (John Honeycutt), in a very deus-ex-machina situation of sorts cannot push John to either side.

Cock is a fun show; but it’s got some serious flaws, and the talented team assembled here by Manbites Dog Theater cannot help most of them. First, the script is just clunky. The first four, or so, scenes are between John and M, pushing through time, toiling over John’s new-found love of W. The next four, or so, scenes are between John and W — now we’ve jumped back in time — and push forward with John and W toiling over John’s complicated relationship with M, not to mention his complicated relationship with W.

Finally, they all come together; and the scene is wonderful until it just … won’t … end. M and W spar and tangle over their respective desires and wants of John, but the real kicker is that we haven’t had the ability to understand — as an audience — what is so fantastic about John that these people are so desperate to be with him. John hasn’t had the ability to prove that he is worthy of all this attention. The “Why?” and “So what?” factor of play writing are through the roof.

The last scene drags on into eternity, with John taking huge pauses where people are waiting for him to make a decision. It was like an abridged Hamlet, only we didn’t have those handy soliloquies to clue us in as to what’s going on in his brain.

Jeff Storer’s direction is inventive. The whole show is done without props of any kind. People vaguely mime certain things (a concept which takes a bit to get used to, but by the end of the play we’ve fully accepted it), and the decision to keep people in a base costume that may not even resemble what they are textually wearing was smart and successful.

The staging, however, left actors making movements that read as unmotivated, not supported by text or emotion. Derrick Ivey’s simple, but effective, performance-space design was so sharply constructed that when actors weren’t moving with precision, it read more like wandering.

All of that aside, Gregor McElvogue turns in a winning performance, with an expert grasp on the language and its style. He’s sexy, smarmy, and moving all in one. Phil Watson is a little green to stand up next to someone as confident as Mr. McElvogue; and sometimes he comes off a little stiff or wooden, not as grounded in the material.

Emma Miller is wonderful, though it’s really difficult to root for her in this situation as “the other woman.” As usual, John Honeycutt delivers a nuanced, warm performance.

I suggest you buy a ticket. There’s nothing else like Cock playing in our area right now, and new plays are always worth a look if you can catch them. The show is laugh-out-loud funny, and has great value with audience response — and the opening-night crowd on Friday, Oct. 4th, was very responsive.

Manbites Dog Theater presents COCK at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 10-12, 2 p.m. Oct. 13, and 8:15 p.m. Oct. 16-19 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $18 Friday-Sunday, except $5 Student Rush Tickets for students with ID and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.

SHOW: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2013-14-season/cock/.

VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): http://vimeo.com/75278363.

2013-14 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2013-14-season/.

PRESENTER: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/.

BLOG: http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.

VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/about/directions/.

OTHER LINKS:

Cock (2009 comedy): http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/cock-9781408127438/ (Bloomsbury Publishing) and http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/cock (The Royal Court Theatre).

Mike Bartlett (British playwright and screenwriter): http://www.theagency.co.uk/clients/clientdisplay.html?viewListing=NDA2 (bio by The Agency), https://www.facebook.com/mike.bartlett.writer (Facebook fan page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Bartlett_(playwright) (Wikipedia).

Jeff Storer (director): http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people?Gurl=%2Faas%2FTheaterStudies&Uil=bear&subpage=profile (Duke Theater Studies bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He played free-spirited speller Leaf Coneybear in Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh‘s April 24-May 5 production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and he directed Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Sept. 6-29 presentation of Art. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

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