Cock is a play title you very rarely find in a theater review headline. I’m hoping that’s because of fear of internet anti-obscenity filters, rather than puritanism on the part of copy editors. The play by Mike Bartlett is a comedy about sexual identity, a love triangle and a power play among three characters: John, a bisexual who is fighting to discover his identity; M and W, his lovers, who battle each other and John himself to determine the course of their lives.
The set design, the script and the direction of Cock make clear that the title refers to several meanings of the word, including adult male chickens and gunlocks, in addition to the male anatomy.
The acting is very strong, with sexually charged performances by Nik Kourtis as John and Jake Szczepaniak as his boyfriend, M, a young corporate executive. (Christopher Sheard played John at the beginning of the run.) Szczepaniak, in particular, dressed in slightly flamboyant business attire, is excellent—he’s hyper and excitable, with the mood swings that one might expect from someone whose life is threatened with turmoil.
On his way to work, John meets W (Eleni Pappageorge), a divorced teacher. They see each other again and a mutual interest develops. John admits he has never had sex with a woman, but W helps him explore opposite-gender sex. W would like to marry John and holds out the lure of a house and children. John, although clearly fond of W, is irresolute about his two relationships. He has always thought of himself as a gay man and now he’s not sure.
M is frantic about John’s dalliance with a woman. In an effort to resolve the dilemma, M plans a dinner party at which he believes John will announce his decision. He invites W and his own father, F (Torrey Hanson), who wants to see his son maintain what he sees as a loving relationship with his boyfriend. (F has a nice monologue in which he advises that gay men should take advantage of their hard-won freedoms and not dither around in heterosexual relationships.)
The setting is London in the present but the set, designed by Katie-Bell Springmann, mimics an arena where a cock-fight might take place in Mexico. The hexagonal arena floor, covered with wood chips, is demarcated by a low corrugated iron wall and surrounded by rough wooden bleachers. The characters frequently take positions at opposite sides of the pit, as if about to face off. In the first half, each new scene is signaled with a bell as at the start of a boxing round. After blackouts, the characters open new scenes in attack pose.
The actors create an intense atmosphere which is enhanced by the intimate space. The audience sits in tiered wooden stalls with cushions provided at the door. The semi-comfortable seats and the tension on stage mean that 85 minutes is about the right length for this drama that forces John to finally make a choice.
Darrell Cox’s vigorous direction keeps the action and the dialogue crackling along. Cox is Profiles’ artistic director and an actor who has performed many challenging roles, including the menacingly attractive lead in Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe, which Profiles opened in their smaller space in January 2010. (If you sat in the front row, you were in the action.) The play received rave reviews and was moved to the Royal George Theatre, where it ran through July 2010.
Profiles Theatre is finishing its 25th season and has gained a reputation as one of Chicago’s preeminent storefront theaters. Its two spaces—its original 65-seater and the nearby 100-seat Main Stage--are both storefronts in the same block in the Lakeview neighborhood. In fact, the newer space, formerly occupied by another theater company, is a former speakeasy.
The London world premiere of Cock in 2009 sold out its entire run at the Royal Court Theatre’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. The production directed by James Macdonald won the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. The US premiere, also produced by the Royal Court and directed by Macdonald, opened off-Broadway in May 2012 and earned several award nominations. Bartlett’s play Bull was named Best New Play in the National Theatre Awards in October 2013.
Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Darrell Cox
Starring Torrey Hanson, Eleni Pappageorge, Christopher Sheard/Nik Kourtis, Jake Szczepaniak
Set design by: Katie-Bell Springmann
Costumes by: Raquel Adorno
Lighting by: Mike Durst
Music and Sound by: Jeffrey Levin
Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5pm and 8pm, Sunday at 7pm
Tickets are $35-40 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-549-1815