By Brandon Voss
18 Jun 2012
|Photo by Monica Simoes|
As directed by James Macdonald, who also staged the play's Olivier Award-winning 2009 London premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, the American premiere — currently scheduled through Oct. 7 at Off-Broadway's Duke on 42nd Street — stars Smith as John, the conflicted chap in the middle of longtime boyfriend M (Jason Butler Harner) and pretty new fling W (Amanda Quaid). Smith, who made his New York stage debut last year in The Shaggs at Playwrights Horizons, speaks about the extremely passionate, sometimes alarming audience reactions to his character's indefinable identity crisis.
What's it like to be in a play with a title that some major media outlets can't even say or print?
Cory Michael Smith: I enjoy it. I know our marketing team is pretty jazzed about that, because people think it's vulgar and edgy. I'm not a big jokester, but I can definitely appreciate people who can throw out puns left and right, so it's been fun to hear what people have been coming up with.
CMS: He keeps coming back to the idea of wanting to be honest. For better or worse, he's someone who says what he thinks. He's not afraid of feeling things, and he's not afraid of loving someone. He has this dichotomy of being fearless but also, once he sees his dilemma, very frazzled. He's just a very alive, responsive person, and that's a pretty thrilling thing to jump into as an actor.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
What discoveries have you made about John as you spend more time with him?
CMS: John has an identity issue where he has absolutely no idea who he is. He talks about how different he feels with M and with W, and there's an exciting reality to that that's pretty alarming: One of the biggest insults you can say to someone is that they're two-faced, but different people do bring out different qualities in you. As I continue doing the play, it's thrilling to continue living in those two worlds and letting that confuse me. I've also enjoyed finding those times when John is being juvenile and when he's truly a mature adult. Sometimes we act like 13-year-olds, and other times we're able to make more composed, logical decisions.
Various reviews, many in reputable publications, have referred to John as a gay man who falls for a woman, but labeling John as gay seems inaccurate if not ignorant. How do you see him?
CMS: Honestly, it doesn't really matter to me. But I do find it really interesting that someone can come see this play and then venture to call him something, anything, because it's almost defying one of the major themes of the play. One of the lovely things about this piece is that Mike, the playwright, is confronting the complexity of human nature. So for me to place any kind of label on John does a disservice to what Mike has done and the freedom that his characters embody.
It's a natural for critics to try to boil a complicated play like Cock down to its simplest terms. Some have called it a play about bisexuality, but is it more about rejecting labels altogether?
CMS: That's a good question. Is it a play about rejecting labels? One of John's great explosions is when he's been cornered and goes into a diatribe about that, but I don't think that's necessarily the message of the play. For me, it's not about defying labels, and it's not about a promotion of bisexuality. The evolution of our consideration of sexuality and the idea of normality is different in different cultures. It's also always changing, which is so confusing but also so right. What's considered normal in New York City, for example, is not normal in various other parts of the country, and everyone must find their own level of comfort. So I think the play's more about asking why we try to figure these things out, why there has to be answer, why there has to be a right or a wrong, why should anyone tell someone else they have to know what they are. It doesn't matter.