Cock explores a sexual fluidity where labels are meaningless

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Make all the jokes you want, but Rumble Theatre's season opener is fare more than just a naughty title. In Mike Bartlett’s Cock (Oct 29-Nov 8) the playwright explores identity and the fluidity of sexuality as John must choose between his longtime male lover and the new woman he has just recently met. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "labels are for clothes".

While the title of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock may conjure specific images, actor Shawn Macdonald admits that Cock, the opening play in Rumble Theatre’s twenty-fifth season, isn’t quite as racy as you might think

“It is a relationship play about a breakup, coming back together, and deciding if you’re going to stay together,” says Macdonald who plays John’s boyfriend. “It is really about identity and discovering who you are from the people around you.”

Cock tells the story of John, who after breaking up with his longtime boyfriend finds himself in love with a woman. Torn between the two, John brings them together to talk it out. To complicate matters, the father of John’s boyfriend is unexpectedly invited to the dinner where it all goes down.

While Bartlett’s play may be about identity, it also explores the fluidity of sexuality, a theme that Macdonald says will resonate with a younger generation.

“John represents a breed of new sexual beings that we are seeing in millennial and younger generations, where labels and categories mean less and less,” says Macdonald. “There is a mature understanding of what makes a good relationship well beyond who you sleep with, and John gives voice to a new way of expressing sexuality.”

Taking its name not only from the slang term for the male sex organ, the play is also meant to conjure images of a cockfight. To help illustrate that metaphor, Bartlett dictates that his play is to be performed on a small stage with the audience in-the-round, looking down on the action, similar to how you would view a real cockfight. It is also stripped of stage directions, set, props and costumes.

“It is really fascinating to be in a play where you can’t rely on furniture, props or stuff as a place to hide or busy yourself with a task,” says Macdonald. “It is quite naked out there, and it means you really have to focus on what your character is fighting for, and that is really challenging as an actor.”

Calling it a more abstract experience than a regular play, Macdonald says that by taking everything away except the words allows the characters to take focus. “You understand the action of the play simply through the dialogue. It is tight and concise and really makes you understand what great writing is.”

But before you get the idea that Cock is an intellectual exercise on modern-day sexuality, Macdonald is quick to point out that it is also very funny.

“It’s written in the tradition of British drawing room comedy, or Oscar Wilde,” he says. “It is dead funny, and beautifully written.”

Cock plays Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) October 29 – November 8. Visit http://rumble.org for tickets and information.

(A version of this interview first appeared on Vancouver Presents on October 20).

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