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New York City - Theatre

Mike Bartlett's
Sunday @ 3:00pm & 7:00pm
Tuesday @ 8:00pm
Wednesday @ 8:00pm
Thursday @ 8:00pm
Friday @ 8:00pm
Saturday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Duke on 42nd Street

Directed by: James Macdonald.

Cast: Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid, Cory Michael Smith and Cotter Smith.

The most intense, riveting and engrossing play of the season has opened and—shocker—it is not on Broadway where non-musicals happen to be thriving (happy shocker) but instead--at a smallish, round and fairly uncomfortable theatre easily lost in the 42nd Street tourist madness. There a truly remarkable work is being performed by truly gifted artists. The play has a title that even the New York Times refuses to print (come on Gray Lady—get with the Times—oy!). That title, COCK, has a number of different meanings—not strictly limited to the one that refers to a part of the male anatomy.

The cast is small—four actors. The set…well, there is no set--there is barely room for the actors to maneuver around. Strike that: there is just enough room. There are no props or costumes and all of the sex and nudity is simulated. Yet it happens to be one of the most erotically charged works I have seen in a very long time.

The story is ridiculously simple. Young buck, John and his older boyfriend have a falling out and he meets a woman whom he begins having feelings for. This triangle is the basis for the drama that unfolds. I say drama, yet COCK is an incredibly funny play as well. I found myself bowled over in hysterics by many of the line deliveries. But it’s the type of humor that comes from the actors portraying the reality of the situations they find themselves in.

Strongly reminiscent of John Schlesinger’s seminal 1970s film, Sunday Bloody Sunday, COCK isn’t afraid to comb the depths of what makes its three main characters behave the way they do and desire what they desire. All three have so much at stake, yet two of them seem to be wholly at the mercy of John. And, John relishes his power and is repelled by it as well.

He knows he holds all the cards but seems to have no clue what to do with them. John is a perfect embodiment of this new, confused and uncertain generation where decisions are made by not deciding.

At one point, early on in the play, M goes off about how he feels rejuvenated after having been hit by a car. John is gobsmacked as he knows if the same thing happened to him his reaction would be one of devastation. “I’d be liquid.” It’s in this moment John’s jealousy takes over. How dare M feel this way when he cannot. How dare he FEEL when he cannot.

COCK is masterfully directed by James Macdonald, who allows quite a bit of physical contact early on and then, more sparingly, to great effect. He also uses a bell (like in boxing) to signal the end of each scene.

One dazzlingly brilliant scene has John and his new lady having sex for the first time and we watch them start out far apart and walk in spiraling circles as they get closer and closer to one another and, verbally, achieve their goal. This verbal physicality seemed to also comment on just how disconnected we have become with one another in these last few tech-obsessed years.

Macdonald uses the theatre space as if it were the Roman Coliseum where audiences used to gather to watch people fight to the death—and in many respects John is fighting for his life. For his sanity. For his right to choose to be who he is—even if who he is remains uncertain—a work in progress—even if he cannot commit…decide…and may never be able to.

A London import, COCK is now cast with four amazing American actors, doing spot-on British accents.

The great Jason Butler Harner (so creepily good in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and so diametrically different and equally good in last year’s film The Green) goes deep inside the insecurities that ravage his character, known only as M, and exposes the lustful desperation lurking underneath his withering pride and his claims of love.

As the ‘other woman,’ Amanda Quaid is a powerful force, willing to fight for what she wants—almost more interested in winning that in realizing what the prize is and that it may not be what she was hoping for.

Cotter Smith (so good in Next Fall) deftly plays a character brought in by M as a final ditch effort to manipulate what he cannot control.

And at the quite-literal center of all the chaos is the perfectly pompous John who, in a revelatory performance by Cory Michael Smith, forces the characters (and the audience) to take a good look at the way they look at the archaic black and white notions of sexuality as well as love. Does John even know what love is? He certainly seems to have a great love of self. Smith’s cocky, assuredness with M is contrasted with his doubt and meekness with W. He likes playing both roles and probably would continue if his two lovers weren’t trying to force a decision.

He’s the kind of character that would probably love to find a clone of himself to have sex with but would then be repelled by him the next morning—until it was time to have sex again.

Smith is absolutely astonishing as John. It’s difficult to take your eyes off him when he is onstage—he has the type of riveting magnetism rarely seen. He is quite simply the theatrical find of the year.

One of the many bizarre joys found in this delightful and too-brief (90 minutes) evening of theatre is in watching the audience member’s reactions. You can’t avoid it considering the space and lighting. And it sometimes adds a needed respite from the searingly honest and painful souls laid (metaphorically) bare on the stage below.


Duke on 42nd Street | 229 West 42nd Street, Manhattan
(646) 223-3010,







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