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'Cock' opens Theatre Exile's new season

"Cock" runs Oct.17 to Nov. 10 at Studio X. Photo Credit: Robert Hakalski "Cock" runs Oct.17 to Nov. 10 at Studio X. Photo Credit: Robert Hakalski

There’s nothing subtle about the title of British playwright Mike Bartlett’s “Cock,” which opens Theatre Exile’s new season. As it turns out, the play itself isn’t as aggressively confrontational as its name implies, but it depicts a struggle with sexuality where what something or somebody is called is all-important.

“It’s about a kid trying to get in touch with his identity,” explains Deborah Block, Theatre Exile’s producing artistic director. “He’s really trying to find out who he is and it seems like the main obstacle to figuring it out is the labels that society has laid out on top of him.”

The main character, John (Wes Haskell), has just broken up with his boyfriend (John Jarboe) and unexpectedly falls in love with a woman (Mary Tuomanen). The fact that he’s always defined himself as homosexual is one of the major sources of John’s confusion, and his struggle to elide definitions is, according to Block, a timely one.

“I don’t think this play could have been written 10 years ago,” she says. “At certain times in our lives, labels are really important for people to even begin to fight for their rights. Sometimes, once you’re given a name, you have a place. So while people still aren’t treated equally across the board, at this time the playwright is saying that maybe the labels are outdated now; maybe the labels are restricting us too much. He’s suggesting that maybe for some people, the labels are more of a hindrance.”

The biggest struggle for the actors may not be their elusive characters but the play’s unique staging. Bartlett calls for a bare stage with no props or scenic elements, leading to a delicate balance of physicality and suggestion. “The actors have to fully live in the emotional reality of the characters without it getting mime-y or dance-y,” Block explains. “They have to be really comfortable with their bodies, but in a very subtle way. Theater is corporeal and sensual, so they had to feel safe with nothing to hide behind in order to tell the story.”

On a bare stage
The challenges of staging a play with no props are in large part what attracted Block to “Cock,” which kicks off a season largely concerned with the search for and exploration of personal identity. “It’s very much what I would call an Exile play in that it really taps into the core of a human emotion,” she says. “Our shows tend to dig into who we are emotionally, usually the part of ourselves which is more embarrassing to show to the public.”

"Cock"
Oct. 17 to Nov. 10
Studio X
1340 S. 13th St.
$20-$40, 215-218-4022
www.theatreexile.org

 
 
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