Cock Wrestles with Identity, Stereotype Conflicts – A Theater Review

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Cock-Press-Photo-9In a time when Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal top the lists of social and mainstream media posts, it is easy to see how identity takes center stage in today’s society.

“Cock,” a play by Mike Bartlett, aims to challenge identity in our dichotomous culture, which continuously attempts to place people in boxes in an effort to simplify the human experience.

“It’s a universal thing; it’s people getting trapped in their labels and feeling that they are representative more than individuals,” Director Gregory M. Cohen explained.

Cohen recently brought the theatrical production to The Studio at the Long Beach Playhouse.

“Cock,” which takes place in London, centers on the life of John, played Leigh Hayes. Having established a long-term relationship with his male partner (played by Evan Battle), John finds love in the arms of a woman (played by Lexington Vanderberg) during a brief break up. What ensues is nothing short of a cock fight for his love.

For those of you wondering about the title of the play, take your minds out of the gutter! “Cock” is British slang for “nonsense.” Perhaps “Cock” alludes to the personal struggle he faces in the pen, or cock-fighting ring, of his own identity. But male genitalia may or may not be the inference of its title. In fact, its meaning is never fully explained.

Often weak and insecure, John is the embodiment of a male chicken, juggling the love of two people and too afraid, or too unwilling, to chose one. John is fickle and weak — characteristics that Hayes, a thin-built young man, adroitly conveys in his performance. What’s frustrating about “Cock” is that there are points in the play when you think that John reaches a pinnacle of growth and strength, but quickly reverts to a spineless twerp, who is unable to take responsibility for his own persona.

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Throughout the play John is asked to define himself, to take a label, but again and again, John fails to take a stand.

“Be yourself,” advises John’s female lover (the only character in the play who has a name is John).

“I have absolutely no idea who that is,” John responds.

“You are being selfish. I think you need to figure out what you are, fast,” “It seems to me you’re confused,” “Who are you?” are among the comments and questions John is posed by his male partner’s father.

“I don’t know what I am!” seems to be John’s continued response.

John’s responses and character flaws make you wonder whether the play is counter-productive in its intentions. While it exposes its audience to yet another spot in the sexuality spectrum, which is good, it also runs the risk of furthering stereotypes about people who do not conform to embracing either gay or straight sexual orientation.

“It’s a possibility, but I feel that it’s more toward this character’s personality overall,” Hayes opines. “He’s just someone who doesn’t want to deal with conflict.”

Hayes believes that his character knows what he wants but he’s too afraid to do something about it.

“He feels that you can’t choose who you have sex with, in terms of sexuality; it’s not a choice, but I think somewhere deep in side he knows that love, you can chose,” Hayes said. “It comes down to how you feel about a person.”

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To accentuate his point, Cohen made sure he clarified that the play is not about bisexuality.

“It’s about someone in a damaged relationship, searching to complete [himself]in another relationship,” Cohen said. “So, the sexuality is a side issue.”

“The way that the play conveys this message, I feel that it will speak to a lot of people,” Hayes continues. “It really opens people’s eyes to knowing what really goes on in the coming out process, what really goes on with finding one’s sexuality and what really goes on to loving someone so much to the point where you break those barriers.”

The play contains some nudity and language that may be offensive to some people.

“Cock” will be at the Long Beach Playhouse through July 11. Tickets range from $14 for students, $21 for seniors and $24 for adult general admission.

Tickets are available at www.lbplayhouse.org, or by calling (562) 494-1014.

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