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Bartlett’s provocative tale gets blistering premiere at Profiles

Eleni Pappageorge (from left) Christopher Sheard Jake Szczepaniak Larry Neumann Jr. star 'Cock' Profiles Theatre. | PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROSILOW

Eleni Pappageorge (from left), Christopher Sheard, Jake Szczepaniak and Larry Neumann Jr. star in "Cock" at Profiles Theatre. | PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROSILOW

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‘COCK’

Highly Recommended

When: Through March 9

Where: Profiles Theater’s Alley Stage, 4147 N. Broadway

Tickets : $35-$40

Info: (773) 549-1815; www.profilestheatre.org

Run time: 95 minutes, with no intermission

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:37PM



Cockfighting still persists in the darker precincts of blood sport and perverse entertainment, as wagers are laid on which of two roosters — birds conditioned for extreme aggression — will inflict the most physical damage on the other, often resulting in death.

If you enter Profiles Theatre these days, where British playwright Michael Bartlett’s provocatively titled “Cock,” is receiving a blistering Midwest premiere, you will find yourself in a classic cockpit arena, with a wood chip-covered central floor encircled by corrugated steel fencing, and hard seats (cushions provided) that instantly turn you into a spectator.

But there are no birds here — just two gay men. And while they do not literally draw blood, they certainly engage in extreme psychological battering.

However objectionable many might find the material in “Cock” (gay men might justifiably accuse Bartlett of perpetuating the most pernicious stereotypes, and straight women might charge him with the most elemental misogyny), the fearless, bravura acting in this production — under the fiery, take-no-prisoners direction of Darrell W. Cox — is the draw. Watching the show’s four performers at work is its own blood sport.

The only named character is John (Christopher Sheard, a whippet-thin fellow with spikey hair), and he is the unlikely wild card. Now in his late twenties, his long relationship with a slightly older and clearly manipulative lover (Jake Szczepaniak) seems to be crumbling. In brief scenes separated by cockfight-like buzzers, the two argue, tease, seduce and fight with practiced power tactics until John announces he has become involved with a woman (Eleni Pappageorge, an actress of great natural beauty and subtle emotional complexity).

She is vivacious and persistent, and while certainly aware John is gay, she very skillfully initiates him into sex. As for why she would be interested, Bartlett supplies no answer except to suggest that people are drawn to whoever they are drawn to, and not always according to strict genetic wiring. In one notably revealing moment, John recounts how after coming out at school he felt pressured to be ultra-gay.

Arriving late in the story — as John, and both his boyfriend and girlfriend gather for a “moment of choice” dinner — is Larry Neumann Jr. as the widowed dad of John’s boyfriend. He has made peace with the fact that his son is gay and isn’t about to switch gears again.

The actors, whose nerve endings are almost visible, are unremittingly riveting. The design team, most notably Katie-Bell Springmann’s award-worthy set, is tops.

Note: There is partial nudity and many graphic situations here. But it goes with the territory.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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