Theatre Exile Debuts “Cock”

john jarboe cock

John Jarboe

Bearded Ladies founder John Jarboe is taking a hiatus from the cabaret scene to co-star in Theatre Exile‘s latest, Cock, an intense, Oliver-winning drama written by Mike Bartlett that kicks off the company’s 17th season.

In it, Jarboe plays a man named M who finds out his boyfriend, John, has been sleeping around with a woman named W. Suddenly, caught in somewhat of a cockfight (hence the name), M and W light into John to make a decision between the two of them, but he doesn’t feel like he should have to. Claws come out. M, who Jarboe likens to a housewife from a 1950s movie, uses his expert manipulation tactics, enlisting his persuasive father, F,  to help him get back his man. W is sarcastic and vile, belittling John’s manhood by calling him names like “half-ass” when she doesn’t get her way.




That  harshness between characters is actually where the challenge sets in for Jarboe, who tells me that "getting to a place where I'm ripping someone down has been a journey. Inhabiting a person like that, and finding the good in them when the text can be so cruel, is hard. I say a lot of things I haven't said before."

But that's not the only hurdle. If you couldn't tell by the characters' names, the play thrives on minimalism. There is no set. No props. Just front-and-center, in-your-face emotion. "It's one of the most challenging plays I've dealt with, because of how bare it is," Jarboe says. "There's a scene where I get naked — but not really naked. I have to get naked emotionally. It's a strange place where normally there would be a prop or set piece that you could hide behind and use to your advantage. Instead, I have to use my body to communicate an emotional journey in the scene. The work we do has to be really true and raw."

cock theatre exile

Wes Haskell (center) plays John in Theatre Exile's 17th season opener, Cock.

That rawness — forgoing props, giving the characters the most basic of names —  is needed to break down barriers for the audience, to give them access to John's thought process. Is he deciding between a man or a woman?  To be gay or straight? Those questions are bound to come up, but it doesn't have to be that complicated. For in toying with convention (for instance, making the gay relationship the more normalized, stereotypical one), the playwright eliminates everyday labels, forcing us to wipe the slate clean and develop new, forward-thinking perceptions of relationships and sexuality.

Cock also stars Wes Haskell (John), Mary Tuomanen (W) and Benjamin Lovell (F), and is directed by Deborah Block. It's showing now through Nov. 10. For more information or to purchase tickets, go here.

 

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  • Janice Rael

    So is this play bi-affirming? Or biphobic? At first glance, it could, well, go either way.