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The cast of Cock. Photo by Karen Almond.

Theater Review: Second Thought Theatre’s Cock Teases With Tough Questions

Rating

B

Location

STT @ Kalita Humphreys Theater Bryant Hall 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Dallas, TX 75219

Dates

January 29 thru February 22

Once you get past its provocative title, Mike Bartlett’s play about confused sexuality and society labels isn’t quite the shocker it appears to be. Some might even call it a tease.

In Second Thought Theatre’s stripped-down, bare-bones production, it’s up to the actors to verbally conjure up all manner of different settings and situations—and yes, that even includes a titillating sex scene where not a stitch of clothing is removed or even skin is touched. The main trio is largely up to the challenge and Alex Organ’s taut direction helps prod the action along, but the play’s unresolved ending and blunt dialogue remain more than a little unsatisfying.

Justin Locklear is John, a man recently sprung from a long and intense relationship with his boyfriend who then suddenly finds himself attracted to a woman. This sets off all kinds of existential questions pertaining to love and sex, chief among them why we insist on labeling and confining a person’s sexuality. John doesn’t know anymore whether he is gay, straight, or bi; he only knows that love can be fluid and ever-changing, much like life.

Unfortunately, that line of thinking doesn’t fly with either the ex-boyfriend or the new girlfriend. Blake Hackler, playing John’s ex (he’s never named, and simply referred to as M), is prickly and bitchy from the beginning, an expert manipulator who knows how to keep John coming back. Danielle Pickard (known as F) is instantly relatable as a straightforward woman who recognizes the unconventionality of her circumstance, but who believes in fighting for love when it feels right. Each of the trio delivers a passable British accent (Pickard’s is especially believable), lending a pleasing musicality to Bartlett’s often repetitive and mundane dialogue.

The show’s main frustration comes from how John, a man of action in the beginning, devolves into little more than a whimpering coat rack by the end. While his lovers battle it out for his affection during a farcical dinner party, John remains largely silent. Pickard’s character even chastises Hackler’s for trying to kick John out. “Don’t you see?” she says. “It has to be his decision.” Keep waiting, sister.

Because John isn’t going to make a decision—that’s the play’s whole stubborn point. He doesn’t want to nail down his feelings, and would rather lose the two people who claim to love him just to avoid doing so. Even the surprise entrance of the boyfriend’s father (Robert Ousley, sounding more Southern than British), called in to support his son and remind John that he’s viewed as part of the family, doesn’t sway him one way or another.

Second Thought staged a reading of Cock during Uptown Players’ Pride Festival that was successful in its simplicity. Perhaps its transfer to a larger space (the audience is now held at bay behind a railing, almost as if we are peeking in on a rather tame wrestling match) dilutes the intimacy. Or maybe the addition of an intermission stalls the momentum (theater interruptus, if you will). Either way, by the final blackout we know almost less about John than we did at the beginning, while his questions about orientation and love seem more muddled than before. And that feels a little bit like a cock and bull story.