COURTESY LOIS TEMAFrom left

COURTESY LOIS TEMAFrom left

‘Cock’ a limp exploration of relationships

Despite the potential for title titillation, “Cock” at New Conservatory Theatre Center is about as dry as the sand pit in which the actors strut and fret barefoot for the 80-minute duration of Michael Bartlett’s play.

Why the actors are barefoot is not clear and, if somehow symbolic, the point is lost. Similarly, why the actors all sport British accents – to varying success – when there is nothing organically British in the piece is also not explained.

Suffice it to note the playwright is a Briton and “Cock” won an Olivier Award – the British equivalent of the Tony – in 2010 for “Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theater.”

In a nutshell, John (Stephen McFarland) is torn between two lovers and feeling like a fool. A fool who has to make a choice between M (Todd Pivetti) his longtime male companion and W (Radhika Rao), the woman with whom he initiates his first heterosexual relationship during a break in his time with M.

McFarland exudes a needy, puppy-dog charm and it is easy to see why M and W are initially drawn to him. Like the Paddington Bear, he needs looking after and each is willing to engage to serve their own needs. However, the charm is short-lived and John soon devolves into a whining morass of indecision and tears.

This makes the second half of the play a somewhat repetitive series of “What should I do?” explorations by John full of self-imposed emotional flagellation with which it becomes easy to lose patience, as M does at one point.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with playwright Bartlett, but a big chunk also rests with McFarland and director Stephen Rupsch, who could have avoided letting the character be so relentlessly self-obsessed and self-pitying.

As the objects of John’s distraction and, some might say, destruction Pivetti and Rao work hard to maintain their characters’ credibility and succeed admirably.

Pivetti plays M with a fussy controlling bitchiness. He sees John’s dysfunction and is willing to accept it so long as M’s own desire for order and a sense of normalcy can be maintained in their lives.

Rao’s W is extremely unfussy and sensible. She’s been game for the experiment, but she sees the writing on the wall. Every time she heads for the door you hope that she’ll just keep walking.

Matt Weimer makes the most he can of the seemingly tacked on role of F, M’s father, a PFLAG-ing character brought in to heap guilt on a character already wracked with it.

REVIEW

Cock

Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 South Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 12

Tickets: $12.50 to $35

Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

artsCockMichael BartlettNew Conservatory Theatre Center

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