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The Cock Fight Play at Phoenix Theatre 

*****
click to enlarge From left, Sarah McGee, Chris Roe and Scot Greenwell in The Cock Fight Play at Phoenix Theatre. - ZACH ROSING
  • From left, Sarah McGee, Chris Roe and Scot Greenwell in The Cock Fight Play at Phoenix Theatre.
  • Zach Rosing

People refer to Mike Bartlett's play as The Cock Fight Play because that's easier than trying to use its actual title, Cock, in everyday conversation. But it's a good, blunt title for a play about hard, complex issues related to identity, choice, and more.

On the surface, the play is about a British man named John (Chris Roe) who can't decide between staying with his long-time boyfriend ("M," played by Scot Greenwell) or continuing a relationship he started on a whim with a woman ("W," played by Sarah McGee).

Both M and W want John but not each other. John wants both of them, understands he has to make a choice, but can't seem to do it. The situation is agony for all three of them. It only gets worse when they come together for a dinner party and M invites his father ("F," played by Brad Griffith) into the mix as back-up.

The tension is heightened even further by the staging: the audience sits on two raked sides of a cockfighting pit swathed with barbed wire. (The Phoenix Theatre's main stage space has been completely transformed.) Humans, not birds, verbally peck at each other in the pit to determine a winner.

There is no furniture. We know we are in a bedroom or coffee shop only by the actors' words, which are often funny. No one takes their clothes off, but there are some very sexy exchanges. The actors under Bryan Fonseca's deft direction pace and dodge around the confined space, retreating to their corners between bouts, er, scenes. Their interactions are exquisite.

I doubt I would enjoy watching a bloodsport event in real life, and I was uncomfortable at times watching this play. "Just let him go!" I wanted to shout more than once. "If he is not going to step up for you, get out of the pit!"

But I also empathized with John trying to be honest about who he was and what he wanted, even as he cocked things up. I wept when his boyfriend's father lectured him on being true to his gayness. I agree with John: why are the labels so darn important? Why isn't it more important to just love whom you love?

On the other hand, life is all about making choices and following paths. It's what we humans do. Society may be a pit, too, but it's where we live. And labels are sometimes useful in achieving justice. As M says, "There's still so much work to be done!" Even though I felt wrenched after seeing this play, I love that it subtly presents so many layers of things worth thinking about.

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