Theatre Review: Available Light Theatre Delivers a Highly Emotional Ride with The Cockfight Play
Available Light Theatre’s newest production, Cock (sometimes called The Cockfight Play), written by Mike Bartlett opened last night with a forceful energy.
The show centers on one man, John, played illustriously by David Glover, and his journey into self-discovery. He leaves his boyfriend of seven years and stumbles upon a woman, with whom he falls in love. Now he wants to return to his boyfriend, but still loves the girl. The three meet for dinner to “discuss” the situation, and a fourth surprise visitor appears. An insidious evening ensues where emotions run high and, ultimately, someone must get hurt as John makes a choice.
Though both of John’s love interests, the relatively nameless M (Drew Eberly) and W (Elena M. Perantoni) insist on not playing games, they both resort to a variety of guilt-evoking, shaming, or psychological head-games to “win” John’s heart. Given the concept, The Cockfight Play, this certainly makes sense. The stage remains bare apart from a white square symbolic for a boxing ring. Bells ring at intervals to establish the end of rounds. No one fights to the death in Cock, at least not literally, and half, if not most of the show does not involve fighting, but everyone endures some mental or emotional trauma.
Director Ian Short stages an impeccably paced play that uses the Studio One space in a refreshing way. The frequency and size of the movements underscore John’s, and really everyone’s, search for meaning. Cock uses inferred props, some costumes, and physical exchanges. Performers do not kiss each other so much as imply it (so much for show; don’t tell), but it truly works. Every action feels more intimate and pronounced. Inflections become triply paramount. We absorb ourselves in the characters. Jarod Wilson’s simple lighting proves purposely effective, particularly for the one blacked out scene, which makes for a really interesting moment in the theater where audience members feel free to exclaim or react loudly in the anonymity of darkness.
David Glover never leaves the stage in the ninety plus minute show. We see the spectrum of emotions and inner turmoil a young man can feel over the course of weeks, days, minutes, seconds, and with barely a break. It seems easy to paint John as a player or a cheater (with the ugliest of connotations), but Glover does a seamless job making him very human, relatable to most. His fears, anxieties, insecurities, and desperation bubble to the surface, and we expect him to explode. In the dim light, images come to mind of John floundering in the center of a ring in dark and treacherous waters, while the pressures of all the things spin around him, pushing him deeper under water.
As for his lovers, Drew Eberly gives perhaps the finest performance I’ve seen of him yet, as he portrays John’s long-time, emotionally abusive boyfriend. He unpredictably jumps between cute and warm and cynical and cruel with few cares to the effects, making for an intriguing people-watching experience. Elena M. Perantoni plays such a sweet and quirky W. She almost seems unreal, but as the dinner progresses, we see glimpses and finally the reality of the desperation that all of these characters cling to.
The surprise fourth guest, who I will not write about anymore because I found the character truly unexpected, posed a question to John. “Who are you really? I think you need to work out what you are.” Okay, posed two thoughts actually. The play primarily speaks of sexuality, but that’s just the issue. Too often, we define ourselves in something not really ourselves—our job, a goal, a pet, a parent, a child, a lover, your race, your sexuality, etc.
None of these things are us. Yes, they help compose us, and naturally partial identity comes from these things, but in actuality our choices define us. John cannot know who or what he is because he, as all the characters, as so many people, looks to other things to define him. While the characters look for lovers or children or parents to define them, they ignore the glaring fact that they must choose to exist in their own skin. Rather, they seek salvation from other people and find tortured emotions all evening. As my friend put it, “No man is worth this.” The one climatic moment John makes a rather brutal choice, we finally see in a very telling way who John really is.
The Cockfight Play delivers a rapid ride that will surely engross the audience.
Cock runs until May 24, at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sun., 5/18 at 2 pm. Talk backs occur after every Thursday and Friday performance. Pay what you want. More information can be found online at AVLTheatre.com.