War for the Heart, War in the Soul

It’s a twist on the love triangle when John takes a break from his boyfriend only to fall for a girl.  Now forced to decide between the two, John finds himself in the middle of a vicious, emotional cockfight between the two loves in his life.  This is Cock by Mike Bartlett and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

I confess to being a little taken aback when I was asked to review a show with such a title as many connotations of the word flew through my mind.  And, yes, this play does utilize multiple definitions of the play’s title from the innocent to the vulgar.  More importantly, this show is also one of the season’s best.

Mike Bartlett has written a whip smart script with dialogue that surges with intensity and compelling characters.  Bartlett leaps straight into the action with little build, but manages to fill in the gaps as he rapidly moves John between his boyfriend and girlfriend until the inevitable confrontation between his two significant others.

Without question, Joshua Mullady’s direction is the finest I have seen this season.  Mullady displayed an intimate understanding of the script with brilliant staging.  Not only is there not a single static moment in the show, but Mullady uses the play’s words to establish the movements of the characters.  As they grow apart, they physically move further from each other.  As they grow closer, they literally move closer and show intimacy.  Mullady has also perfectly cast this show with 4 actors who have pitch perfect chemistry and give nearly flawless performances.  Mullady also designed the beautifully simplistic lights which pulsed with a life of their own as they shifted with the beats of the show.

Joseph Schoborg’s portrayal of John is as haunting as it is powerful.  Schoborg’s John is a complete train wreck of a human being as he struggles to determine who and what it is he wants.  Schoborg’s body language is deadly accurate.  With his failing relationship with his boyfriend, he is stiff-necked with his shoulders up in his ears.  With his burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend, he is relaxed, loose, and tender.  Schoborg also has an incredibly nuanced voice capable of capturing deep frustration and running the gamut to whispering sadness.  The only tiny issues were that Schoborg spoke too quickly at the top of the show and I lost some of his dialogue, but he brought that under control as the play continued.  He also needed to keep his vocal strength up as it was just a hair below where it needed to be.

I was blown away by Eric Grant-Leanna’s interpretation of the nameless boyfriend.  Grant-Leanna gives what may be his best performance with a character he has developed down to the minutest detail.  As M, Grant-Leanna misses no beat as he bounces from lightly teasing John about his lousy cooking, to intense arguments about John’s cheating with a woman, to delivering nasty verbal jabs to the other woman, to nearly begging John to stay with him.  Grant-Leanna’s always spot-on facial expressions greatly added to his brilliant line readings which he enhanced even further with always appropriate gestures.

I was absolutely gobsmacked with Caitlin Staeball’s work as the unnamed girlfriend.  At the show’s start, she sat with the audience watching and reacting to the byplay between John and M.  Jealousy was quite apparent as she glowered at M.  Ms Staeball beautifully maneuvered through the ebbs and flows of her character’s story arc with clear and clean delivery and sure understanding of where she was heading.  Most telling was a scene where she sleeps with John for the first time.  Using just the power of her voice along with Mullady’s stellar lighting, she paints a vivid picture of what is happening without either performer actually doing anything physically.  Her subtle emotional manipulation of John in the climactic confrontation was also a nice piece of character work.  I look forward to seeing Ms Staeball in other roles after this fantastic Omaha debut.

Brent Spencer is very capable in his role as M’s father.  His British accent needed a bit of work, but his interpretation was quite good.  As F, Spencer is clearly devoted to his son and cares a great deal about John as he is quite hurt that John wants to leave his son for a woman.  Spencer also was responsible for some of the night’s more humorous moments as he jousts with John’s girlfriend.

What I found most interesting about the show was that it was not about whether John was gay, straight, or bisexual.  The show’s true tragedy was that John had lost himself.  He didn’t know what he needed in order to be happy and was fearful to take the risk of finding out for himself.  That is a message that will echo profoundly in every person who watches this wonderful dramedy.

Cock plays at SNAP! Productions through March 27.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors, T.A.G. members, and the military.  Thursday night shows cost $10.  This show contains adult situations and extremely strong language and is not suitable for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.

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