Studio Theatre offers Mike Bartlett’s play, “Cock,” poking at sex, identity

You won’t actually see cock onstage over at Studio Theatre.

“No, there are no physical roosters in the play,” Studio’s David Muse confirms, “but the metaphor of cockfighting was a big inspiration.” In fact, British playwright Mike Bartlett pokes a little fun with the various meanings of the word “cock” in his play of that name — to also include the British term “cock-up,” or, as Muse puts it, “something that’s gotten all screwed up.”

The Cast Cock Liesel Allen Yeager, Ben Cole, Scott Parkinson and Bruce Dow Photo by Igor Dmitry

The Cast Cock
Liesel Allen Yeager, Ben Cole, Scott Parkinson and Bruce Dow
Photo by Igor Dmitry

The play also pokes at labels of sexual orientation. “[It] wrestles with some controversies around the notion of bisexuality,” says Muse, focusing on a man, John “trying to figure out who he is” after he falls in love with a woman — while he’s on a break from a seven-year relationship with another man. “He’s really caught between these two futures that he can imagine for himself, and he’s paralyzed,” Muse says. “Sometimes you feel frustrated with him, sometimes you identify with him, because that’s a very recognizable struggle.

First staged in London in 2009, Muse has long wanted to direct Cock, which is staged in such a way as to be reminiscent of a cockfighting arena — with four actors standing in as roosters, and no furniture, props or scenery to speak of. “It’s trying to investigate how competitive people can get when it comes to sex and love,” Muse says. “It does it with just a great showman’s pleasure of what theater can do and how fun it could be.”

Muse, who has been Studio’s artistic director for four years, first introduced D.C. to the work of Bartlett with last year’s short, sharp, black comedy Contractions. He promises much more Bartlett to come.

“It’s difficult to overstate what a big deal Mike Bartlett is in the world of U.K. theater,” Muse says. “He’s really at the vanguard of a group of particularly talented young playwrights that have burst onto the scene in the last five years.” – Doug Rule

Cock runs to June 22 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.

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Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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