Mike Bartlett brings ‘Cock’ to Times Square
By T. MICHELLE MURPHY
Following Gay Pride Month in June, we took the opportunity to sit down with playwright Mike Bartlett and discuss some of the inspiration and meaning behind his controversially titled play, “Cock.” Also known as “The Cockfight Play,” this work — which is currently playing at the Duke Theatre in Times Square — is about John, a gay man who falls in love with a woman and struggles to figure out what that means for him, his female lover and his boyfriend. It’s staged in a ring of plywood stadium seating around a small green floor wherein the characters circle each other through rounds of verbal sparring about sexuality, identity and labels.
What inspired you to write this play?
It was two things: I had noticed there were a lot of people I knew who would say they were gay or say they were straight, but had experiences that were the opposite of that. … And then I went to Mexico with a playwright’s exchange at the Royal Court Theatre. I don’t know if this had anything to do with it, but it was in the Zona Rosa, sort of the gay district, where I was staying. I was fascinated that in Mexico they still do cockfights, and they still do bullfights. I didn’t see a cockfight, although I saw them take the cock around the village before the fight. But I did go to a bullfight. And you realize that it’s an activity where you come together for a ritualized killing of an animal — where you come because they’re going to suffer, and you’re like a mob surrounding this fight to the death.
The premise and the theater-in-the-round style were always built in?
Yes, always, that we look down on them, so it’s like we’re judging them, like in a bullfight or a cockfight — a very small stage and quite steep seating. And of course that’s brilliant, that’s perfect for what we’re trying to do. And there was an idea from the beginning that there’s no set or props or costumes, there’s not even naturalistic movement, it’s just [a few people] concerned with the drama and what they’re trying to do with each other. Because at a particularly argumentative dinner party, or when you’re really into conversation with someone, or on a great date, you don’t think about the surroundings, all you’re concerned about is the other people.
So talk to me about the title.
About six scenes in, I realized that it was like a cockfight … and I was getting really irritated with the main character because he wouldn’t make any decisions. And I don’t know if it’s true here, but in Britain if someone’s really irritating you like that, you think “Oh, he’s a complete cock” — he’s not a dick, he’s not an asshole, he’s a cock. I often think a title works in dialogue with a play. The audience comes in knowing the title, so they’re often thinking: “How does the title relate to this scene or this character or this moment?” … That’s why it’s called what it’s called. And it’s been a much bigger issue here than it was in London.