The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday October 25th

Canvas

'COCK': not as provocative as its title

LAB!'s "COCK" 

Thursday at 8 p.m. 

???1/2 stars

If you’re looking for “COCK,” you can find it for free this weekend at Linda’s Downbar, courtesy of LAB! Theatre. The contemporary British play by Mike Bartlett features offbeat humor, high-stakes emotional drama and some lovely acting by the student cast.

The action revolves around the infuriatingly indecisive John, played by Sam Fletcher, as he desperately attempts to define his sexual orientation. The drama starts when he and his overbearing long-term partner, played by Cameron Stuart, take a break and John accidentally stumbles upon the first woman he has ever fancied, played by Camille Oswald.

John remains romantically torn between the pair — identified in the script only as M and W — for the duration of the play, toying with the idea of a “normal” heterosexual partnership while missing the familiarity of his same-sex relationship. He spends his time playing both his lovers with promises of loyalty while splitting his nights between them, a trend which culminates in a final confrontation that is escalated by the presence of M’s father, played convincingly and amusingly by William Foote.

The Downbar is a fitting setting for the intimate, intensely dialogue-driven piece, adding a sense of urgency to the action. Though sightlines are always an issue in a nontraditional space, the uniquely close proximity to the actors makes craning your neck over the back of a booth worth the strain. Fletcher’s flustered, vacillating facial expressions were a highlight up close, and Stuart’s passionate portrayal of a scorned lover was by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.

The show is expressly minimalist; the script instructs that there be “no props, no set, no miming,” a formidable creative challenge that first-time director Kristi Stout handled, for the most part, with aplomb. The one set piece that appeared, a simple wooden crate, stood out as unnecessary to the action.

The production suffered from distant staging, as well as a puzzling dearth of sexual tension. When you see a play entitled “COCK,” you expect provocative, boundary-pushing content, but the most common spatial arrangement is for actors to stand at opposite ends of the room. They rarely touch each other affectionately, making it difficult for them to convey any sense of the sexual chemistry on which the plot hinges. The fully-clothed sex scene was made awkward not by the clothing, but by their distance from one another and abrupt, non-sensual staging.

The script examines the nature of romantic power dynamics, identity politics, and the limitations of gender binaries, but it does so from a notably male perspective. Though Oswald played her role with a refreshingly quirky, honest edge, the female character does not adequately balance out the uncomfortable undertones of misogyny evident in the script.

Despite admirably entertaining performances from the entire cast, the most provocative aspect of “COCK” remains its title. 

arts@dailytarheel.com

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