At the climax of the godawful, spy-filled romcom This Means War (don't ask), Reese Witherspoon's character must choose between the suave player or the sensitive single dad. She has only several seconds to make her selection or she'll be pulverized by an SUV full of bad guys hurtling towards her at 100 mph. As absurd as this scenario is, it's also pretty close to how it feels to be forced to choose between two people you love: a blend of paralytic terror, nerve-wracking guilt, and endless self-doubt. COCK, the blistering, hilarious, 90-minute play in the round currently running at The Duke, expertly encapsulates this struggle without all the CGI and miserable banter.
There are no extraneous flourishes to COCK (it's name is supposed to evoke the sport in which roosters rip each other to bits with their talons). John must choose between M and W, but it was a choice he unwittingly inherited—all his previous lovers were men, so how exactly did he fall in love with W? But to focus on the male vs. female distinction—as M's father F (Cotter Smith) later does—is to miss the point of COCK: this is a play about how our relationships, not our sexual orientation, define who we are.
This isn't to say that COCK is one shouting match after another. British playwright Mike Bartlett writes funny, realistic dialogue. When John (Cory Michael Smith) tells the neurotic (we're told he's "scared of plastic bags"), overly co-dependent M "I still whack off to you every night," the audience sees John desperately reaching for weapons of sincerity in his struggle to define what his relationship with M actually is. Later when John blurts, "You're lucky to have me!" it's clear just how shockingly earnest and selfish that statement really is.
Jason Butler Harner delivers some of the best lines as M, and brilliantly exudes a kind of confidence in his vulnerability. To spare M's feelings, John describes his female paramour as "manly," and we're treated to M's impersonation of W as a bumbling "Yeti," someone who has "too much time on her man hands." She won't stop pestering John because, "You fucked and left her, that is what women do" (this elicited a laugh and a broad smile from a lady in the audience who was at least 70 years old). M is needy and feisty and bitchy but will always take John back, and his devotion to John is as steady as his willingness to use it against him.
W (Amanda Quaid) sees John for what he is: someone who has yet to be "colored" in. She doesn't care about John's past and embraces his existential crisis—so long as she experiences it with him. Near the play's end, at a climatic (if a little cliched) dinner with all three lovers, the usually prim and composed W breaks down when the dreams of raising children with John are temporarily crushed. W is heartbroken that the same indeterminableness she prizes in John can cut her just as quickly.
"There's nothing truly important going on," M tells John in the midst of another one of their seemingly cyclic quarrels. Nothing, and everything, and it is a lot of fun to watch.
COCK runs through October 7 at The Duke Theater
Tickets are $79.50—$99.50