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Cock (Review)

Fighting for Love: 'Cock' at Know Theatre

By Rick Pender · April 17th, 2013 · Onstage
ac_onstage_cock_photo_deograciaslermaPhoto: Deogracias Lerma

Critic's Pick

Know Theatre has opted for quality rather than quantity in its productions this season. It’s following the highly regarded When the Rain Stops Falling with its second show, Cock by Mike Bartlett, maintaining a similar high level of material and performance. Know coyly offers the alternative title of The Cockfight Play for publications with less nerve than CityBeat, but that alternative title is usefully descriptive.

In fact, Know’s upstairs performance space has been physically reconfigured to resemble an arena for cockfighting: three steep tiers of chairless seating on opposite sides of the room, surrounding a “pit,” its floor smeared with bloody red paint. At the open ends are two-person benches plus suspended gongs to mark the “rounds” of combat, each prefaced by a blaze of lights. Director Brian Robertson has the actors circle, grasp and stab at one another in motions not unlike battling roosters.

The combatants in this contest to sexually possess John (Darnell Pierce Benjamin, in a nuanced, tormented performance) are humans, of course. The title’s layers of meaning underscore the clash of intimate relations: John separates from his unnamed gay partner, played with devilish snarkiness by Kevin Thornton (familiar to Cincinnati Fringe audiences as a singer and monologist, but not as an actor).

On an unexpected rebound, John takes up with an attractive young woman, similarly unnamed, portrayed with sincere charm by Danielle Knox (in a wholly different performance than her recent turn as Guenevere in Camelot at the Carnegie). George Alexander is the earnest, mundane father of Thornton’s character.

They pull and tear at John, demanding him to make a choice. He’s paralyzed between his options, an existential struggle that’s presented with verbal humor and emotional pain. Because of the opposing rows of seating, it’s easy to see people’s reactions. On opening night, couples — straight and gay — looked awkward, dubious, amused and appalled, all likely and appropriate reactions to the events of the story.

Cock uses no props or scenery. Sexual action is described and vocalized, but not literally presented. Everyone keeps their clothes on, but souls are laid painfully bare. From start to finish we sense John’s ambivalent existential torture. How it resolves is perfect and frustrating, as provocative as the tense, complex story that has unfolded.

COCK, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through May 11.



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