An Interview with Actors from Cock

dreamwellck2Iowa City – Dreamwell Theatre brings Mike Bartlett’s Cock to the stage beginning tonight at Public Space One. The show is directed by Matthew Brewbaker.

Synopsis:
John (Per Wiger) has been in a stable relationship with his boyfriend (Bryant Duffy) for a number of years. But when he takes a break, he accidentally falls in love with a woman (Jessica Wilson). Torn between the two, filled with guilt and conflicting emotions, he doesn’t know which way to turn. His boyfriend is willing to wait for him to make a decision, but so is his girlfriend. And both are prepared to fight to keep him. As the pressure mounts, a dinner with both parties is arranged, and everyone wants to know. Who is John? What is he? And what will his decision be? A comic discussion of identity and sexuality, the play is specified to be performed with no props or set, so the focus is all on the drama of the situation.

Tickets are available online here.

Dreamwell offered this interview with the three of the four actors. (Rip Russell portrays “F”, the final member of the ensemble.)

Why did you decide to audition for Cock?

Per: I fell in love immediately with the language and structure of the play.

Bryant: I first read this show back in early 2015, and was so impressed with the writing and the relationship between the characters I knew this was a show I wanted to be involved in. I also knew Dreamwell would be the perfect venue to present it, so I presented the show to the play reading committee, it was chosen to be part of this season and the rest is all history! Also, John Harper whom I love dearly was slated to direct the show and I wanted to work with him again, I worked with him a few years back in a wonderful show called, The Little Dog Laughed. When he had to bow out and Matthew took hold of the reigns I knew we were in good hands. Matthew has a great vision and concept for this show. He is wonderful!

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Jessica: And I learned about the show from Bryant, who plays M, and whom I was lucky to have worked with last fall in Dreamwell’s production of Beyond Therapy. I read the script on his recommendation and thought it was fantastic: smart, funny, moving, incisive and deeply thoughtful.

Per, how would you describe John?

Per: John is a guy who doesn’t fit. The choices he is presented with don’t make sense to him because he doesn’t know himself well enough to say what he is or what he wants. He hurts people by accident, acting always out of a desire to make them happy.

Bryant, tell me a little about your character M?

Bryant: M is very much in love with John, but sometimes has a very odd way of showing it. He is has a very tough exterior that is hard to break. He is very successful in his career and sees a bright future with John. When he realizes that he might be losing John he will do whatever it takes to make sure he comes out on top, and nothing or no one will stand in his way. M can be very sharp and cold, and in a flip of a coin he can loose it all and completely fall apart. He is a fun character to play because I see a lot of myself in him, and I can say I have been in similar situations where tough choices had to be made.

In the play your character is vying with another character for the love of lead character John. Tell us a little bit about M’s relationship with John?

Bryant: M and John have a very interesting relationship, they have been together for about 7 years and have had many ups and downs in that time. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but when John leaves him and decides to come back and work things out with M, he is very hesitant to let him back in, truths then come out and another person is thrown in to the love triangle. M decides to have the other woman over for dinner and that’s when the “cockfight” truly begins. Both are so sure that they are coming out on top, and will stop at nothing to win over John.

Jessica, your character’s name is never revealed, and you are referred to in the script as W (presumably for “Woman”). John, in fact, is the only one of the four characters who gets a name. Why do you think the playwright chose not to reveal the names of the others?

Jessica: Cock is very much John’s story. While Mike Bartlett, the playwright, does a wonderful job of making all four characters feel like real, fully dimensional people, John himself tends—perhaps unconsciously—to think of the others almost exclusively in terms of their relationships with him: how they make him feel, how they affect his mutable sense of his own identity, what they might be able to offer him. John is well-intentioned, but his solipsism—and his overwhelming need to be liked and affirmed—causes him to behave in ways that cause deep pain to those around him. For me, the namelessness of the other three characters helps to underscore John’s own limited perspective.

What has been the most challenging part of the rehearsal process?

Bryant: This show has no set, no props, and the script itself has no staging to go off of. There is nothing on the stage exempt the actors and the story. We are not presenting this on a traditional stage either, we are on the floor with the audience literally a few feet away from the playing space. In past shows I’ve done I was playing on big sets, having the script tell me what I needed to be doing or where I need to move to. This show is organic and very much dialed down so the actors can make the decisions for themselves.

dreamwellckPer: Just learning to let go of a lot of our assumptions about the way a play gets mounted has been pretty difficult. It took a while to embrace the idea that we would never get hand props, or how to sit at a dinner table without chairs. Or a table. Or dinner. It’s a wonderful challenge that has forced me to really concentrate on the text, and my acting partners.

Jessica: Learning to work with no set, no props and no pantomime—as the script specifies—has been both the most interesting and the most challenging part of the process. I’ve had to learn to disregard some (but not all) impulses towards strict realism of movement: There are no coffee cups to sip from, no dinner to push around the plate, no coats to yank from people’s hands. Sexual encounters happen, for the most part, in words and in looks. Yet eliminating all these trappings—objects to fiddle with, elaborate choreographies—allows us to explore alternate ways of moving around, and in relation to, one another that help us to express the tensions and connections between characters. In some ways, the abstraction of the staging forces us to be far more present for the drama—creating a paradoxically heightened sense of honesty.

What is something interesting that’s happened during the rehearsal process?

Jessica: I am…directionally challenged in the best of circumstances. I can usually handle ‘stage left’ and ‘stage right’! This playing space has the audience seated on two opposing sides of the stage, though, so standard blocking directions don’t apply. Instead we’ve designated the four sides of the playing space as North, South, East and West—and we’ve rehearsed in several different spaces—so North for rehearsal purposes may or may not have any relation to geographical north — and we have to mentally re-orient for every new space — leading to brain-melting conversations like “Which way’s north? Not real north, stage north. No, I know there’s no couch in here, but if there were a couch, where would it be? And would that be south? But I thought the door was east? Only the door in the other room? Where am I supposed to be right now?”

Why should people come see Cock?

Jessica: For my castmates’ marvelous performances; for the innovative staging and sensitive direction; and for the compelling script, which retains both humor and emotional urgency while grappling with issues of sexuality and identity in a way that’s nuanced and fresh, and which I haven’t seen onstage before.

Per: I’m privileged to be joined on stage by some of the best actors in the corridor, with a tremendous script, and we’ve created a truly unique show. Whether you’ve seen a ton of theatre, or almost none, I think you’ll find something surprising and affecting at Dreamwell’s Cock.

Bryant: Cock is going to be something this area has never seen before, it’s truly in your face theatre where you are so close to the action you can’t help but be a part of it. The dialogue is so well written and the acting is so stellar, I could not have asked for better scene partners then I have with Jess, Rip and Per. People are going to walk out of the theatre after the show and will want to sit down and have a conversation about what they just saw. I don’t want people to be scared of the title of the show, it truly is a stellar piece of theatre. Cock is great, Cock is funny, Cock is hard to watch at times, Cock is sexy, and Cock will make you think again about what sexuality and self identity really means.

 

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