Sunday, April 28, 2013

(The) COCK(fight Play)

A winner for mature audiences at Know

     COCK by Mike Bartlett at Know Theatre is a strong play, but the production directed spectacularly by Brian Robertson takes it to another level.  It’s an eighty-minute one act that has been set in a cock fighting ‘ring’ with the seating on two sides.  The audience is on top of the action, which is yet another original way to utilize the black box space of Know.  As we’ve
said before, Know has the most adaptable space in town with a downstairs cabaret stage and a bar/lounge area.  My problem in the past was that the work didn’t live up to the space’s potential, but that has changed in the last couple years since Eric Vosmeier took over as artistic director.

     In a shortened season, COCK follows When the Rain Stops Falling, which we didn’t get to see, but Lisa (and a number of critics) thoroughly enjoyed.  The proverbial cockfight is primarily between a man and a woman over another man, John.  However, the rounds – signaled like a boxing match – are primarily between two characters, first the men examining the boundaries of their relationship, then John and the woman exploring their relationship, and finally the three characters meeting for dinner with a fourth character as a balance.  In terms of conflict, it resembles the movie Sunday, Bloody Sunday, in which a man and a woman were both involved in relationships with the same, younger man.  That, however, was a search for love and had a more refined and resigned tone.  This play is ferocious, funny, and unable to reach a complete resolution because of the continual specter of ambivalence.  It’s like a British, middle-class version of Sartre’s No Exit.  

Danielle Cox, Kevin Thornton,
and Darnell Pierre Benjamin in Cock*
     The cast is the best one I’ve ever seen at Know.  It’s a tight, physical, and committed ensemble with perfect, middle-class English accents. That’s easier said than done so kudos to Rocco Dal Vera’s coaching.  Robertson keeps the action constantly in the audience’s face and though props and sets are referred to, they’re seen in the viewer’s mind, rather than in actuality.  This was a smart move (it may be in the script, but I don’t know since I haven’t read it) because it places the greatest emphasis on the actors’ performances.  The love scenes, especially, have more punch because their costumes stay on, thereby taking away neither time nor momentum from the rollercoaster pacing.  

     Kevin Thornton has performed his wry and vulnerable one-man shows at the Fringe Festival and on the cabaret stage at Know, but here he is witty, controlling, and furious as the successful, slightly older man determined to hold on to his lover, more in order to possess him than to love him.  
Confrontation in the Cockfight Ring*
Danielle Knox has performed regionally, but we hadn’t seen her until now and she is also a dynamo.  Initially sympathetic, her character becomes more desperate, almost as if she is looking finally for any port in a romantic storm.  George Alexander was really good in When the Rain Stops Falling, according to Lisa, and he is in this as the father of Thornton’s character.  He’s both sincere and self-serving; though I’m not sure he’s as sexist as the woman accuses him of being.  Darnell Pierre Benjamin has the toughest role as John, the only named character, and he pulls it off because he is as physically supple as the character is emotionally ambivalent.  He has an arresting presence that is both attractive and confounding and reminded me a little of movie actors Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie.  

     Kudos again to Brian Robertson, who directed one of the most memorable local shows in the past decade – Triumph of Love at NKU – and firmly secures Know artistically with this edgy, provocative piece.  One caveat:  if you have back problems, the bleacher-platform seating is a painful challenge.

*photos by Deogracias Lerma

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