Review: 'Cock' pulsates with emotion

By Paul Henson, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Mar 03 2014 05:01 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2014 09:12 PM

Topper Fabregas and Niccolo Manahan in a scene from "Cock." Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

MANILA -- I can think of so many puns to spin the title of this play by British playwright Mike Bartlett. It’s really hard not to run crazy with the title “Cock.” Although the title stimulated my curiosity, it was the story that got me quivering with excitement to watch Red Turnip theater company’s latest production.

Here’s the lowdown: John (played by Topper Fabregas) is in a longtime relationship. They hit a rocky patch. They break up.

John meets someone new and quickly falls in love. But John gets scared and has second thoughts. He must decide: Does he wants to get back together with his longtime partner or move forward with this new relationship?

So goes the basic plot of this Olivier award-winning play. Heard this tale before? Not quite.

Here’s the thing: John is gay. As gay as butterflies, rainbows and Cher. John has a boyfriend of seven years (played by Niccolo Manahan), but he’s unhappy. They decide to cool off.

A casual encounter with a woman (played by Jenny Jamora) leads John towards unchartered territory. The friendship turns into something intimate. Scary at first, then, to John’s surprise, intoxicatingly wonderful.

John’s boyfriend is flabbergasted, and the whole messy affair blows up in one awkward dinner where all three of them meet to slug it out and force John to make a choice.

It’s a brave, modern and witty play, and a good choice for Red Turnip, a young local company, to gamble on. The play examines the labels that we ascribe to people with respect to who they choose to love. On the surface, the conflict is about going gay or straight, choosing gay lover or female lover.

The play is performed on a big, bare circle on the floor, with the audience surrounding the actors, as it was staged by The Royal Court Theater in London. It is discomfiting to see the faces of audience members across you, a nod to the voyeuristic nature of watching the lives of the characters.

Rem Zamora, in his directorial debut, put together a talented cast of actors.

Topper Fabregas, Niccolo Manahan and Jenny Jamora in a scene from "Cock." Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

Fabregas is good in the role of John (it is interesting to note that John is the only character with a name in the play), who is the younger of the two male lovers. He does have a tendency to play his doe-eyed but tortured character to the hilt oftentimes, but he is worthy of empathy as he tries to extricate himself out of this conflict.

Jamora as “W” brings a breezy quality to the role. But what appears as fragility, at first, is replaced by a feisty woman who thirsts for love and will fight for her man.

Manahan captivates the audience with his thoughtful portrayal of “M.” Though a bit pompous with his characterization at times, Manahan is a strong, polished actor with a velvety voice, and his “M” is a delicate balance between endearing and vulnerable, on one hand, and domineering and condescending, on the other.

Audie Gemora. Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

There’s a fourth character, “F,” the father of M (played by veteran actor Audie Gemora) who joins the uneasy dinner to make a case for his son. Even without the bold, at times excessive gesticulations of his younger co-actors, Gemora hooks the audience with his solid, nuanced portrayal of a father who has come to accept, even support, his son’s life choices.

While the title of play is risqué, the delicate scenes are stylized innovatively. There are sex scenes but absolutely no nudity. This allows the viewer to focus more on the playwright’s intent, and the most that you would see is two guys in a tender kiss.

When you take away the labels we ascribe to people, the play explores the dynamics of any relationship, gay or straight.

Ultimately, the conflict is something that most people will relate to: What is one’s measure of happiness in a relationship? Does one go for something unsettlingly familiar, or gamble on something frighteningly uncertain?

"Cock" runs until April 6 at Whitespace in Makati City.