June 21, 2019 | David Rzeszutek
The Cockfight Play by English playwright Mike Bartlett is the current offering from Pit and Balcony Theatre’s “After Dark” series. The play was originally named after a one syllable slang term for a man’s genitalia, but with print issues in family friendly newspapers, The Cockfight Play is often used as the title instead for advertising and review.
This play revolves around the character Johna who has been in a stable relationship with his boyfriend. In a series of short scenes, we are introduced to John’s issue— stay in a safe relationship with a familiar romance and sexual territory or explore the unknown arms of a new female partner, and the “normal” lifestyle that that may open up to him. This seems like a great opportunity for revelation. John has a teeter-totter of partners that claim patience, who say they are willing to wait for him, but we find out – they are actually quite demanding. John also suffers from his own indecision and a quest for self-discovery. It’s hard to understand what John’s problem really is. On the surface, it appears to be a question of sexual identity, maybe love, or sexual power; but after a while, it just seems to be about the confused indecision of a non-committal character that doesn’t seem capable of anything but self-love/doubt. Bartlett fills his world with shallow, self-centered characters. A sense of true love seems to be missing from the text; one is not sure who to root for because the love triangle is not full of loving characters.
This setup is a wonderful challenge for the quartet of fine actors on the stage. The ensemble found a lot of humor (sometimes snarky, sometimes dark) and good dynamics with their verbal exchanges. The English dialect used was successful; although some of the sound qualities could be further explored. John, as performed by Nathan Hanley, did a nice job of filling the angst and confusion of the lead character. “M”, as played by Jonah Conner, had multiple layers of aggression and beautiful moments of revealed pain. “W”, portrayed by Maddy Paxson, found a balance between sweetness and a dangerous, cut-throat quality. Dominic Pnacek’s, character of “F” created a paternal care with an awkwardly fun humor.
The director, Chad William Baker, crafted a momentum that had the ninety-minute show move at a quick pace. Some of the earlier scenes felt a bit rushed, but opening night jitters probably had something to do with it, as the production seemed to ease into its rhythm as the show progressed. This show was minimalistic as is used no props or furniture, and the clever blocking choices made for an entertaining stylized production. The simple design elements by the Production team helped to focus the opening night audience, and that crowd: cringed, laughed, and some tears were shed.
This limited-run show is being presented arena style, in the round, with an intimate 100 seat capacity. Make sure you get the tickets now for you and her, you and him, or all three of you.