Metro Weekly

Studio Theatre’s “Cock” review: Randy Harrison stars in sexually fluid drama

Studio's "Cock" restages Mike Bartlett's love triangle drama straight up with a split-screen twist.

Studio Theatre: Cock
Randy Harrison and Scott Parkinson in Cock – Photo: Studio Theatre

A gay man leaving his male partner of seven years for a woman would certainly garner attention as a life choice, and it still intrigues as the premise for Mike Bartlett’s lauded drama Cock (★★★☆☆). Society’s not much closer now to an age of no-judgment sexual fluidity than we were in 2009, when Bartlett’s play first premiered, or in 2014 when Studio Theatre artistic director David Muse first staged the show in D.C.

Muse has remade his Helen Hayes Award-winning production anew as a digital theater experience that lays bare the emotional tug-of-war between John, who’s always identified as gay, M, his shellshocked partner, and W, the woman who stirs John’s passions to a degree that unsettles his entire identity.

The script and performances, led by Queer As Folk‘s Randy Harrison as John, clearly delineate that it’s not John’s fluidity that’s up for judgment. The problem starts with the way he goes about indulging his desires, the way his selfishness and indecisiveness cause pain and confusion, pitting his partner and lover against one another, both in the abstract and for real. John’s fence-sitting ultimately draws M (Scott Parkinson) and W (Kathryn Tkel) into a face-to-face confrontation that couldn’t possibly go well for everyone involved.

Muse’s production serves the drama straight up, isolating the action under Colin K. Bills’ piercing lighting, within a round of dirt inside a bare brick studio. Like bantam fighters in the ring, John and M, then John and W, then the whole lot of them plus M’s father, F (Alan Wade), verbally punch and parry their way through what John refers to as “the situation.”

Harrison, playing John as relatively naïve to the hurt he causes, makes a wishy-washy, often insensitive protagonist, if not appealing, then at least understood. The changes John is experiencing might be, for him, unexplainable, yet they are not without explanation. Parkinson, reprising his Helen Hayes-nominated role from the 2014 production, inhabits the proud spirit that drives M to fight for his man, not that he and Harrison locate the spark of longtime affection that makes the fighting seem worthwhile. Whatever forms the foundation of John and M’s romance is not so apparent.

W asks John, “What is it about you?” We can wonder too, and through Tkel’s compelling take on “the other woman,” connect to her thrill at the potential she sees in John and the life they could have together. W’s attraction to John is titillating, her righteous impatience with him is galvanizing. Tkel brings the heat, performing at times direct to camera, as do all of the actors, thanks to video direction by Wes Culwell.

Camerawork and editing mediate this digital theater experience, seizing the playgoer’s luxury of deciding for themselves when and whether to watch John cataloging M’s faults, or to instead absorb M’s reaction. Something can go missing in those moments that a single actor holds the shot, and their partner remains off-camera. But the production addresses the issue via a nifty split-screen presentation that occasionally places all the actors onscreen at once, boxed into individual portraits of pleasure, pain, discovery, or reproach.

That fresh way of seeing each of them, aligned or juxtaposed, visually hemmed in by emotion, adds friction to a “situation” that hasn’t aged a bit, and still registers as jolting and provocative regardless of whose side you’ll take in the fight.

Cock is available for streaming on-demand through April 18. Tickets are $37. Visit www.studiotheatre.org.

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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