Theater review: ‘Cock’ (the cockfight play)

Love is never easy, but sometimes it's an outright fight.

Set on a patch of green carpet surrounded by the audience in a small, sparse, plywood arena, “Cock,” at the Duke on 42nd Street, is a cockfight if ever there was one. Punctuated between scenes or rounds by bells reminiscent of those in a boxing match, it’s a verbal slugfest that rages unheard within the head of John (Cory Michael Smith) and crackles between him and his two lovers, M (Jason Butler Harner) and W (Amanda Quaid). With its rapid-fire dialogue by Mike Bartlett and deft direction by James Macdonald, it’s a knockout without a champion.

John is gay. He lives with M in a fully committed, if somewhat fractious, relationship. Then he meets W and finds intimacy with her surprisingly fulfilling. It seems that he loves her. But he also loves M. Clearly it’s time for a decision, to be announced at a dinner M prepares for the three of them and his father (Cotter Smith). But decisions are not John’s strong suit; he makes Hamlet look decisive.

The script is almost nonstop talk, so the few silences take on a weight that’s palpable. The cast is flawless  especially Smith, who anchors the play with striking honesty. His performance is like the set and the play itself, devoid of decoration. With no props and no furniture, the beauty of “Cock” lies in its bold, theatrical simplicity. But there’s nothing simple about its ambiguous ending: It resonates with the contradictions of life itself.  

‘Cock’
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
$80; 646-223-3010
www.cockfightplay.com



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