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Trio fights to the finish in savage comedy

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.
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- QUEEN CITY THEATRE COMPANY
John (Kristian Wedolowski, center), looks on as M and W (Glenn Griffin and Iesha Hoffman) battle for his affections in “Cock.”

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  • Want to go?

    Queen City Theatre Company does Mike Bartlett’s comedy about a metaphoric cockfight between two dinner guests, a man and a woman, for their host’s affections.

    WHEN: Through Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Also 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19.

    WHERE: Duke Energy Theater, 345 N. College St.

    TICKETS: $22-24.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or

    carolinatix.org.


Director Glenn T. Griffin saw an early production of “Cock” in which the stage was set up as a bare ring, as if fighting roosters had met to tear each other apart; actors circled like gamecocks ready to strike.

Kristian Wedolowski’s set at Duke Energy Theater offers a semblance of civilization: a few chairs, a table, the odd wine bottle or glasses. Nonetheless, the actors in Queen City Theatre Company’s final show at that venue are just as ready to draw psychological blood.

Mike Bartlett’s play (nominally a comedy, though often a painful one) has no intermission but is loosely broken into three parts. In the first, John (Wedolowski) and his lover, a man known as M (Griffin), go through a series of breakups and awkward reconciliations, as John confesses infidelity.

We meet the source of the awkwardness in part two. She’s a woman called W (Iesha Hoffman, in the most committed performance I’ve seen from her). W, the first woman to whom John has been attracted, thinks they can have a house-and-kids future together.

The three come together in a dinner party during the last scene, and M’s unusually tolerant father (Hank West) drops by to support his son. Only here does the play feel extended, as it starts to go back over the same emotional ground.

John is as painfully immature as any character I’ve seen onstage in years. He thinks his alternation between M and W represents a journey of self-discovery, but he’s monumentally selfish: He wants the physical comfort of his life with the wealthy M, who tends to belittle him, and the self-esteem provided by the tolerant, always encouraging W.

Both are drawn to his boyish enthusiasm for life (Wedolowski does this well), but his relationship with each is unhealthy: He depends on them to define his personality.

Griffin had the good idea to make all the props and furniture white, which gives us a sense that John’s a blank slate waiting to be written on. (And perhaps it’s a symbol of emotional sterility, too.) He keeps the actors in flux and isn’t afraid to make his own character priggish and weak; in fact, the play directs most of our sympathy toward W, though she’s self-deluded about John.

The director and cast find the humor in the script, especially in a scene where John explores sex with a woman for the first time. More importantly, they reveal the havoc that results when a weak person saps others of emotional strength.

It’s possible to empathize with the confused John while also wanting to slap him. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Not to decide is to decide” – but this man’s emotional paralysis can cripple everyone he touches.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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