Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Cock

Cock, by Mike Bartlett, produced by Theatre Exile, directed by Deborah Block, featuring Wes Haskell, John Jarboe, Mary Tuomanen, Benjamin Lovell. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: Cock

Travel Deals

By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Cock, by Mike Bartlett, is occasionally--for both thematic and practical reasons--called The Cockfight Play. In a bisexual love triangle with one spectacularly indecisive young man at its apex, his lovers battling for his affections, there’s bound to be some bloodletting. But Theatre Exile’s funny, sensitive production, directed by Deborah Block, and staged in the round on a low, hexagonal wooden platform, feels more like a slow, sad game of Chinese checkers. This is not an insult. 

Sure, people fall in and out of love ferociously, viciously, but they also do it in fits and starts, a leap closer, a few hops back. As Wes Haskell’s boyish, blue-eyed John and John Jarboe’s v-necked, buttoned-down broker M discover after seven years together, it’s tough enough one on one, with a definitive sexual orientation. When John meets Mary Tuomanen’s no-nonsense W, he shocks himself by falling in love, and during an ill-advised dinner meeting between the trio and M’s father, F (Benjamin Lovell), it becomes clear to them all that John, a serial liar who refuses commit to either partner, is so desirable precisely because his entire identity has been crafted to reflect other people’s desires. Of course, this is hardly a deterrent, though it is a detriment to each in his or her own way.

Bartlett’s script eschews set, props, even touch, for the most part. However, when the actors circle one another like predatory animals, Tuomanen reacts to the suggestion of sexual contact with a full-body quiver, or Jarboe pantomimes disrobing by shifting his shoulders and softening his eyes into a vulnerable entreaty, well, what else do you really need? Perhaps Block’s pacing highlights a bit of the script’s repetitiveness, but it also allows Jarboe and Tuomanen in particular (partners in both the Bearded Ladies and Applied Mechanics theater troupes) plenty of time to dig their talons into one another and their characters, all for our delight.

In the clumsier hands of, say Neil LaBute or David Mamet, whose relationship dramas glance alongside Bartlett’s, Cock might merely be a work about sexual identity. Instead, Bartlett asks about identity itself; who we love is less important than how we love, and the way we love reveals who we are.


Playing at: Theatre Exile at Studio X, 1340 S. 13th St., Philadelphia. Through Sun., Nov. 17. Tickets: $10 to $40. Information: 215-218-4022 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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