“Cock” Proves More Inspiring Than Its Title

by / theatre (0) in Arts & Sciences /
Alexander Burnett ’16 and Arnav Adhikari ’16 played lovers quarreling over their relationship and their identities in the play “Cock” (Campus/Rachel Frank).

An entirely sophomore-driven and remarkably thought-out production, “Cock” was the collaborative brainchild of director Jordan DuBeau ’16 and producer Alexander Burnett ’16. Written by British playwright Mike Bartlett and debuted in 2009, the Hepburn Zoo production starred Burnett, Arnav Adhikari ’16, Juliette Gobin ’16 and Dylan Gilbert ’16 and ran from Thursday, Nov. 7 through Saturday, Nov. 9.

While on a break from his negative and domineering boyfriend (Burnett), John (Adhikari) finds refuge in a tender divorcée (Gobin) who shows him the light of a not-terrible partner, which John mistakes as the light of heteronormativity, thus throwing him into an identity tailspin that carries us through the rest of the play. We follow a meandering John as he demonstrates his complete inability or his unwillingness to make a decision, leaving his two overbearing paramours to battle it out over our meek hero.

The play’s climactic scene — a dinner party with John, his boyfriend, his girlfriend and, for some reason, his boyfriend’s dad (Gilbert) — culminates in (spoiler alert) John’s deciding to stay with his boyfriend, not because he really wants to, but because he is afraid to give up the identity that he has spent so many years constructing for himself.

Despite its intrepid title, “Cock” thankfully relies less on sensationalism and titillation than it does on sharp humor and skillfully drawn characters. Bartlett’s dialogue is precise and adept enough to carry the piece without much semblance of context.

“Looking at the script, with its zero stage directions and its incredibly particular layout of dialogue, I get the sense that the playwright cedes control of how the play is staged, with the condition that the dialogue comes through as he intended,” DuBeau wrote in his director’s note. “It’s written so well that it seems to scintillate regardless of the visuals.”

There is no set or props to speak of (although the costume design from Yvonne Chan ’16 was spot-on), and though we can glean enough from the text to determine that we are in contemporary London, we are given little framework for the characters’ lives off-stage. John is, in fact, the only named character — M, W and F comprise the rest of the cast — making “Cock” a modern-day take on the love triangle archetype.

Of course, in making John’s choice between a man and a woman, Bartlett explores more (post)modern themes than Shakespeare did — themes of sexual identity and labeling that feel especially relevant in a college setting. It gets a little heavy-handed towards the end, when John will not stop musing about the irrationality of the straight-gay binary — a deft filibuster, it seems, while he tip-toes around the inevitable decision at hand. But generally speaking, “Cock” presents a theme worth exploring at Middlebury: as Burnett put it in his producer’s note, “What happens when we forget the labels? Are there parts of ourselves we haven’t realized exist?”
At 90 minutes without an intermission, “Cock” felt, at times, too long. Part of this seemed intentional, an attempt to mimic structurally the frustration that all the characters feel at John’s indecision. As a rhetorical device, it was effective: I, too, was frustrated. When the girlfriend and the father took their respective exits in the final scene, I was relieved to see them go, simply because it meant that a choice was finally made.

What was best about “Cock,” though, was the cast, which brought Bartlett’s archetypes to life, fleshing them out into three-dimensional, if nameless, people with idiosyncrasies and flaws and shimmering humanity.

Burnett’s M was not just an antagonistic boyfriend but also a man who is deeply, adoringly in love. Gobin’s W was not just a magnetic, self-possessed seductress but also a woman with her own history, needs and insecurities.

Gilbert’s F was more than just a third-act wrench thrown into the three-wheeled dinner party — he was a hilarious and adept take on the overprotective father figure, adding depth to the M character and perspective on the evolving question of sexual identity.

Adhikari offered perhaps the most multilayered interpretation: he succeeded in creating a character that was alternatively infuriating and charming, pompous and unsure, and relatable through it all.