Exhilirating acting takes center stage in Theatre en Bloc’s ‘Cock’

Jenny Lavery and Derek Kolluri are two of the most fresh and original talents in Austin theatre. Throughout the years, they have continued to pull off startlingly original works, and though they haven’t always hit the highest mark, they have all always been definitively theirs. With their latest production, a thrilling four-hander with the provocative title of “Cock”, they’ve created their greatest work, a fiercely-paced and tightly directed tale of a man with the daunting task of having to choose between his haughty, charming boyfriend, and his new, bright girlfriend.

Playing the everyman can be trying. Playing the dashing charmer or the bright-eyed ingenue is bound to grab attention, but sometimes it can be hard for the man in the middle to steal the show. Zac Carr takes on this task with a natural rhythm, tackling his fear of loss and his struggle to choose between his two loves with a earnestness that touches your heart. We’re never left to wonder why this duo would find him attractive, as he is never short of engaging, but at the same time he feels like a character who walked in right off the street. His chemistry is undeniable with all of the cast, especially in one of the erotically charged scenes I’ve seen on stage this year, between himself and Jenny Lavery’s “Woman”.

Ryan Hamilton has always shown good skills as an actor, but in “Cock” he takes those skills to a new level. Besides being endlessly charming and distractingly handsome here, he seems be channeling a young Tom Hardy as he strikes us with an acerbic but enthralling performance. He’s constantly cutting and almost overbearingly pretentious, but at the same time there’s something irresistible about him. That our lead is so taken by him is hardly surprising, as Hamilton, as well as the play’s writer, Mike Bartlett, and director Derek Kolluri has crafted a charming beast that we simply can’t help but love.

Though all of the actors perform quite well on their own, the real sparks fly when they all have the chance to come together. In the last third, the play becomes an explosive war of emotions, with scenes practically knocking the audience out of their chairs with pure intensity of the proceedings. The small stage becomes a battlefield, with each actor pushing themselves to the absolutely limit, while never straying too far into over-the-top territory. Each piece of wordplay or banter, each sly look steals our attention, keeping us rapt throughout. It’s only when we reach the end, and find our hero lying on the floor, tears forming in his eyes, that we have time to catch our breaths, looking down in awe at what we’ve just seen.

It seems with every play Theatre En Bloc has been elevating their work, but it will be hard to top the absolutely brilliant performances, intricate directing, and sharp script of “Cock”. By keeping things simple, and letting the acting take center stage, the company has created what could be their calling card in years to come, and we only hope that their next work is able to live up to the atmospheric level that “Cock” was able to reach.

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