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Going Rogue: Henpecked

Ed Rampell: There’s nothing square about this up-to-date drama with laughs that takes a, uh, cockeyed view of sexuality.
Cock

Rebecca Mozo and Patrick Stafford (Photos: John Flynn)

COCK Theater Review

Ticket buyers who love their theatre pure will be suckers for Cock. British playwright Mike Bartlett’s stellar one-acter is pared down to the theatrical essence of dialogue and acting -- no special effects, dance numbers or storyline derived from comic books, Hollywood blockbusters, other plays, etc. (although Bartlett did win a 2013 National Theatre Award for a work named Bull -- so one can honestly report that he’s written Cock and Bull stories). The cast is flawlessly directed by the award winning Cameron Watson, and the four actors hold forth in a cleverly designed space (per the dramatist’s intent) on a stage surrounded by seating at the Rogue Machine that suggests a cockpit (or cock ring), giving a whole new meaning to theater-in-the-round.

Cock Rogue Machine

Rebecca Mozo, Patrick Stafford, Matthew Elkins, and Gregory Itzin

Be that as it may there’s nothing square about this up-to-date drama with laughs that takes a, uh, cockeyed view of sexuality. In a series of rapid scenic transitions signaled by the lights, the story, such as it is, unfolds. As Cock opens John (stage and screen actor Patrick Stafford -- whose credits include TV’s Modern Family and a recurring role on Glee -- portrays the only character whom Bartlett has deigned to name) and M (the tall Matthew Elkins plays the part of the character whose moniker may be a reference to “Man”, or more darkly, to Peter Lorre’s serial child murderer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 movie of that name) are mulling over their relationship.

As the tale evolves we see that the handsome, if slightly built John, has also become sexually involved with W (which stands for “Woman”?), a lonely 28-year-old who has fallen for him (stage and screen actress Rebecca Mozo depicts the curvaceous, blondish beauty). So the play quickly unfolds into a not-so-classic triangle saga, with a tug of war ensuing for John’s affections and attention (and of course for the play’s titular member of the cast). (BTW, W’s witty term for the female equivalent of a “hard on” is almost worth the price of admission alone -- well wordplay-ed, Ms. Mozo and Mssr. Bartlett.)

John is the central character at the apex of Cock’s triangle and the nature of his sexuality is at the heart of the play’s theme. Is he gay, straight, bisexual? Or is his sexuality not predicated upon gender but on the individual he is involved with, no matter what his/her sex? Bartlett seems to be asking: If sexuality is a matter of pleasure and intimacy does the gender of one’s partner(s) really matter?

Matthew Elkins and Patrick Stafford

Matthew Elkins and Patrick Stafford

Of course, for some, there’s more to sex than that, such as playing power games of control, dominance and manipulation. Such seems to be the case for M, who is far bigger than John and in addition to being physically domineering, can be psychologically overbearing. M seems to be henpecking John, and some pro-gay rights advocates may read an anti-gay theme into Cock, in that M is coercing John to choose homosexuality over heterosexuality. Although repeatedly alluding to John’s job, it is never disclosed and he seems to be a confused man unsure of himself. On the other hand, M’s career is revealed, and of course he’s some sort of capitalist. Plus there’s no question re: M’s sexual preference. While this reviewer has no idea if it was the playwright’s intent to consciously or unconsciously insert an anti-gay POV into Cock, a reasonable viewer could assume that this is a point the play makes.

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Not all love, of course, is sexual (Freud calls various platonic types of relationships “aim inhibited” because they don’t result in orgasm), and towards the end of Cock Bartlett tosses yet another ingredient into this roiling stew, which could be filed under the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” heading: Enter M’s dad, who is called F -- perhaps for “Father”? -- played by veteran stage and screen thesp Gregory Itzin, who has appeared on Broadway, on the small screen as Pres. Logan in the pro-torture FX series 24 and on the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and George Clooney’s Ides of March.

F injects the whole parent-child, father-son nexus into an already complex relationship. F is commendable in that he stands by his son, no matter what his sexual preference is. But as Itzin sort of indicated to this critic after the play, this “no matter what” stance can prove to be problematic. Because if love is completely unconditional, one is not constrained by disapproval and the like from loved ones for perpetrating bad behavior. Which can lead to acting with impunity, minus any fear of being held accountable for one’s actions -- you know, sort of like the way Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t imprisoned a single Wall Street big shot, even after these banksters wrecked the economy (although Holder has no hesitation throwing the book at whistleblowers and low level offenders, but that’s another gruesome story).

Cock Rogue Machine

Rebecca Mozo and Patrick Stafford

The play is meant to take place in Britain and all of the thesps have what sounds to this Yank’s untutored ear authentic British accents, although none of the actors seem to actually be Brits. (Indeed, Mozo is a Jersey Girl -- and I don’t mean from the isle off Normandy’s coast but from the Garden State off of Manhattan’s west coast.) To tell you the truth, although the Oxford-born Bartlett who studied drama at the University of Leeds is British, this reviewer doesn’t know whether setting Cock’s action in not-so-merry olde England makes a difference compared to simply staging it in the not-so-good ol’ USA, but that’s beside the point.

Another thing about Cock’s British-ness -- most Yankees have preconceived ideas about the Brits as being Caucasian. But at some point during the 85 minute or so play it dawned upon your humble scribe that Mozo is not a stereotypical white Anglo Saxon, and indeed, it turns out that this gifted actress is half-Brazilian, half-American. This may be merely coincidental or just could be a bit of clever casting in that it further complicates and raises Cock’s main theme.

Like the movie Dear White People, Cock is largely about the notion of identity. Who am I? How do I identify? This is the quest that John is on, and his lack of knowing the answer is at the root of his lack of self-assuredness.

Although Cock is not for the squeamish it is yet another reason why L.A. theatergoers are going Rogue. Producer and artistic director John Perrin Flynn’s Rogue Machine remains one of L.A.’s best theatres, presenting topnotch, thought provoking, entertaining works of art on the live stage. Experiencing Stafford, Mozo, Elkins and Itzin have at it gave this critic the same sensation he has when watching a magic show: How do theydo it? From the accents to their intensity in character, how do these actors conjure up this spell that their dramatis personae are real? Of course, deft directing and superb scripting while keenly commenting upon the human condition help, but this is what great ensemble acting and theatre are all about. It’s enough to make Rogue Machine act, well, cocky.

Cock plays at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, 7:00 p.m. on Sundays and 8:00 p.m. on Mondays through Nov. 3 (dark Oct. 10 and Nov. 2) at Rogue Machine, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., CA 90019. For info: (855)585-5185; www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell