Cock Explores Ups and Downs of Male Sexuality

<i>Cock</i> Explores Ups and Downs of Male Sexuality
Karen Almond
Danielle Pickard and Justin Locklear are two-thirds of a love triangle in Mike Bartlett’s Cock at Second Thought Theatre.

Its title is the only bit of shock in Cock, the play by British writer Mike Bartlett now running as Second Thought Theatre's 10th season opener at Bryant Hall. Oh, it's all about the peen, where it goes and who wants it, but as a piece of contemporary drama, Cock is strictly missionary position. Nothing much new here.

Is John gay or straight? Is he a lumberjack or a marsh-dweller?

That's not to say Second Thought hasn't made it an interesting, even sexy, evening of theater. Director Alex Organ — and his name is the most wonderful footnote to this whole production — has cast three dynamic Dallas actors to make up Bartlett's fiery love triangle. Tall, scruffily handsome Justin Locklear is John, newly free of a corrosive seven-year relationship with older boyfriend "M," played by the tiny, pointy-featured Blake Hackler. The men's sexual chemistry was good but their fights were epic. "We're sinking, you and me," John says on his way out of M's designer-decorated London house. "I'm taking a lifeboat."

He paddles into Danielle Pickard, pale, pretty and blonde, playing "W," who chat-flirts with John at the train station on their way to work. They have sex. She clings, following him to coffee shops. He rebounds back to M. Then back to W. Then it's square one, take two, with John and M breaking up and making up, only to have John yearning for the warmth of W's welcoming vajeen, which he calls her "considerable marshland." M takes John's bi-curiosity as a betrayal. M is also a mean, controlling little shit and wants John to make a final declaration. Is John gay or straight? Is he a lumberjack or a marsh-dweller?

Details

Cock

Continues through February 22 at Bryant Hall (next to Kalita Humphreys Theater), 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Call 866-811-4111 or go to secondthoughttheatre.com.

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Back and forth they go, fighting, flirting and fucking. But Bartlett's play and Organ's direction keep it all in the abstract. Everybody's clothes stay on and the sex acts are described and completed with no explicit detail. Their orgasms, depicted standing side by side with no touching, are less convincing than Meg Ryan's deli scene in When Harry Met Sally... .

First staged at London's Royal Court Theater in 2009, Cock made Bartlett, then in his 20s, a hot commodity in the British theater world. There have been productions of this play around the globe, with "family newspapers" like The New York Times resorting to renaming it The Cockfight Play in ads and reviews to avoid offending delicate sensibilities. How veddy silly.

At Second Thought, Organ has staged Cock in a pit, more or less, by keeping the theater floor in the intimate Bryant Hall bare of furniture and seating the audience above the actors so that we stare down at them from behind a metal railing. Each scene is punctuated with the metallic "ding" of a boxing ring bell. The actors, usually two at a time, simultaneously step into circles or triangles of bright white light, the geometric outlines traced on the black floor in colored chalk. (Lighting by Aaron Johansen is as tightly choreographed as the actors' movement.) The effect is of watching rounds in a punch-free match of wills and wits.

Unlike Dallas Theater Center's current show, the viscerally physical Oedipus el Rey, also staged in a tight configuration that has the audience peering down on combatants, the battles in Cock are only verbal. And what streams of words they do spew. Locklear, Pickard and Hackler, all affecting British accents, talk at a rapid-fire clip. If only the dialogue were more Alan Ayckbourn than awkward reality television: "There's a gap," John says. "Between what? Us?" M says. "It's not working," John says.

They speak variations of this about 200 times in the show's 100 minutes.

Cock's climax is a big letdown after an hour and a half of foreplay. M stages a dinner party, inviting John and W and "F" (for M's father, played with sweaty lethargy by Robert Ousley). It's a showdown over beef and cheesecake — get it? — with M getting all bitchy-screechy and W, bless her icy little heart, reminding the guys she can have the babies and they can't.

The play ends oddly. We've heard the arguments for and against John's choosing gay, straight or bi, and it's time for the final thrusts. M and W state their ultimatums. And then instead of a throbbing finish, Bartlett's writing goes limp.

Remember the end of the movie The Heiress? The gigolo returns to the heiress' door, knocking and knocking, in vain, it turns out, because she's done with him. Something like that happens in the last bit of Cock. John retreats into a passive silence as M bleats at him like a baby goat. Bartlett doesn't let us hear John's choice, if he ever makes one. (Good thing actor Locklear, with his impossibly perfect cheekbones and deep blue eyes, is so pleasant to gaze upon even when not speaking.)

What a tease Cock is.

 
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