Thursday, September 20, 2012

Theater Review: 'The Cockfight Play'

A Fight to the Death -- Perhaps of the Soul
By Lauren Yarger
Two hens go beak-to-beak to determine the pecking order when it comes to mating with the rooster they both desire while spectators watch from arena seats, but this is no ordinary cockfight.

Here the two hens are an unnamed man and woman (Jason Butler Harner and Amanda Quaid) identified only as M and W and the rooster who can't make up his mind whom he likes better is John (Cory Michael Smith) in Mike Bartlett's clever hot-ticket play Cock running Off-Broadway.

The trouble starts when John, recently broken up with M, suddenly finds himself attracted to W despite the fact that he and M had been in a long-term relationship with M and John has always thought he was gay. Society told him he was, so he never really questioned it before. Could it be that he's not? Or maybe he's bisexual?

W has had some disappointments of her own in the love department, so she is reluctant to begin again with John -- especially since he says he is gay. She sees potential in him, however.

"You're like a picture drawn with a pencil, not yet colored in," she tells him.

What starts as a sort of sexual experiment develops into real affection and John is torn. The sex scene, directed by James Macdonald, is brilliant, with the couple circling around each other and all of the physical action taking place in bird-like fashion while the couple remains fully clothed.

The new development doesn't go over with M whose feathers are ruffled in rejection. He insists on meeting the woman whom John has described as "manly." He invites her over for dinner and asks his father, F (Cotter Smith), to join them for added moral support. It had taken some adjustment for M's parents to accept his relationship with John, but now F considers him part of the family and he strongly urges John not to give up everything he has built with his son.

The dinner party gets off to a shaky start -- W hardly is the Yehti-like, manly creature John has described. Instead she's feminine and pretty, making it even more difficult for M to understand John's attraction for her. John isn't excited by the added pressure of having F join the party or by the fact that W represents everything he's ever wanted: a family, kids and normalcy.

In a piece of inspired direction by James Macdonald, the contestants go to their corners and the dirt starts to fly as scratching and pecking ensues. The audience can't help but feel they are in a barn watching a cockfight thanks to the hard plywood arena benches encircling the action (Miriam Buether designs the set and costumes. Those seats have a small cushion, but feel pretty hard even after a quick 90-minute run). Bells signaling the end of scenes evoke thoughts of a boxing match (Darron L. West, sound design). It's an-edge-of-your-seat battle as John changes his mind more than once and M, F and W all try to make the decision for him.

In the end, John is mortally wounded, not only because he can't make the right decision, but because he is so confused, he can't even figure out what the right decision is. Don't be put off by the title and subject matter. It's an engaging play, skillfully written and executed and is thought-provoking enough to trigger conversation on the way out of the theater and later.

Cock (more gently referred to as The Cockfight Play), the 2010 winner of the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in An Affiliate Theatre, runs through Oct. 6 at the Duke Theater, 229 West 42nd St. Tickets: 646-223-3010;

Christians might also like to know:
-- This doesn't have an official MATURE rating, but should...
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Strong sexual dialogue and motion
-- Strong language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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