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Theatre

Let the Cock Fight Begin

Studio 180 begins its residency in the brand-new Theatre Centre space with a British dramedy about modern sexuality and identity.

Jessica Greenberg and Andrew Kushnir in Mike Bartlett's Cock. Photo by Kari North.

Jessica Greenberg and Andrew Kushnir in Mike Bartlett's Cock. Photo by Kari North.

  • The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
    • April 15–27
  • $25–$35

Performance dates

April

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Despite its provocative title, there’s actually very little that’s controversial about Mike Bartlett’s Cock, making its Canadian premiere at the Theatre Centre. Its subject matter might have been viewed as more controversial in 2009, when the play premiered at the Royal Court in London—but after five years, this story of a love triangle between two men and a woman has lost part of its taboo-challenging appeal. Luckily, though, its emotional appeal has endured.

Andrew Kushnir stars as John, who originally identifies as homosexual and has a long-term partner, known simply as M (played by Jeff Miller)—though it’s clear from the get-go that their relationship is on the rocks, and John has one foot out the door. One day, he meets W (Jessica Greenberg), a woman he shares a commute with, and is drawn into a romantic relationship with her that throws him into a tormented tug of war of emotions.

Or maybe it’s more like a battle of emotions. The action unfolds in a bright-green square in the middle of the Theatre Centre’s new black box theatre; the audience surrounds the “ring,” and the bell of a boxing match (or perhaps cock fight) sounds at the beginning of a new “round.” The first two rounds are between John and his two romantic interests, and the grand finale—a dinner party at which John must make a final decision—features the unexpected addition of M’s father, F (Ian D. Clark). In director Joel Greenberg’s interpretation, emotional battles are as fatiguing as physical ones: the characters take breaks outside the ring, guzzle water, and circle each other within the confines of the square. However, there’s very little physical contact between them—all sex is implied—except for a few very significant kisses. This is a story that doesn’t dwell on the sexuality of these relationships, though that’s important. Instead, it focuses on the mental warfare being waged inside John.

In fact, the word “cock” never appears in reference to a sexual organ. It’s used only as an insult (“You’re a cock”) or to refer to a mistake (a “cock-up”). Both of those uses give us insight into John’s personality and motivations: he’s unaware of his own desires, insecure, and terrified he’ll make the wrong decision.

The answer to John’s dilemma might seem quite clear to an audience in 2014—he should either identify himself as bisexual or pansexual, or pursue the possibilities of a multi-partner relationship. The fact that these words are never heard in the script doesn’t take away from the fact that it is basically an argument for those types of couplings. Perhaps that’s where the conversation between John, W, and M would have led if F hadn’t shown up to the dinner—Clark is excellent as F, who arrives to fight for his son’s happiness after his own wife’s death, congratulating himself for accepting his son’s coming-out and steadfastly refusing to accept that there might be yet another option for romantic satisfaction that he would have to open his mind to.

Jessica Greenberg is another standout as W, and has the most progressive perspectives on love and sex of the four characters. After a traumatic experience as a young wife and divorcee, she is the only one who has already arrived at the central idea of the play: do whatever makes you happy, and be with whomever makes you happy.

Kushnir’s John is constantly wide-eyed and open–mouthed, looking for something or someone to make the choice for him or simply to let him off the hook. It’s not Kushnir’s fault that such indecision in a character can be irritating—and it does make for a very cathartic final outburst, which he carries off with gusto. As John, Kushnir makes it clear he has no problem making decisions with his cock: it’s the ones he has to make with his head and heart that are the trouble.

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