There is more hot sausage in this clip art cartoon than in the entirety of Mike Bartlett’s graphically named Olivier Award-winning play, euphemistically referred to as “The Cockfight Play” by print publications that can’t print its title. Too bad. It could be interesting to see a play dealing directly with many aspects of the human penis, even as crudely referenced. Penises have driven much of human history, one way or the other. It appears Bartlett gave his play the naughty name to spur controversy and call attention to it. He then went ahead and wrote a cleverish 20-30 something year olds’ relationship drama with four people: one confused and selfish, two hopelessly codependent and the fourth a concerned, out-of-touch parent trying to do the “right” thing. It feels like a graduate school exercise, one of those “edgy” culmination projects undertaken at a hip MFA program, incorporating acting exercises (how novel) and providing next to no resolution, so nihilistically au courant. No “cockfight” takes place either, to spice things up, just lots of wounded pride conversation, and begging, and huff. And daddy hugs his widdle boy, the play’s feel-good moment demonstrating a loving humanity. The one moment that leaps straight out of an acting coach’s bag of tricks to help stuck actors find the inner resonance in a difficult, intimate scene garners most attention from critics and admiring audiences alike. The lead man and W, the woman, stand next to one another, not touching, not looking at each other. facing the audience, as they verbalize a first love-making encounter. Even given its graphic descriptives and requisite gasping. moaning climax, the moment comes across as an exercise inserted for effect, rather than a development element in a legitimate play. They might as well have been eating, and enjoying, their first shared banana split.
I attended the staged reading of “The Sausage Play” (my name for it as everyone’s taking a shot) last year at Uptown Players’ Pride Festival and found it more intriguing in that format than in the full production. I don’t fault the acting. At the reading, Joey Folsom played the lead, with Danielle Pickard as W, Blake Hackler as M and John Davies as the father. In the recent Second Thought Theatre production, Justin Locklear played the lead and Robert Ousley played the father, with W and M the same as in the reading. All gave solid performances, allowing for one actor rushing lines and yelling due to opening night jitters (?) in the recent mounting. In the full production, director Alex Organ had his actors enter a bare black-painted stage and draw geometric shapes around the playing space floor. At intermission they erased them and drew some more for Act Two. Inexplicable and edgy, I’m sure playwright Bartlett would be thrilled. Is this chalk ritual in the play’s stage directions? I can find no review of other productions that references the action. Tempts me to subtitle the play “Caucasian Chalk Rectangles”. The actors were defining something — what, I don’t know.
The folks at Second Thought Theatre do seem to engage in a wealth of sausage worship with their play selections. Perhaps they chose to produce this play because of its enigmatic title? I understand the actors enjoyed their experience. Any time I get to see major regional talent Blake Hackler perform, I’m totally thrilled. Otherwise, I’m not giving it a second thought.