The Peripheral Cock

At one point in The Talking Heads’ concert-as-play The Peripherals, at Dixon Place, whimsically titled songs like “Bird Love Ballad” and “Song of Aunt Suzanne” give way to a moment of unexpected existential profundity. With an, “Omigod! OK. Omigod!” one bandmember stops the oddball meta-musical proceedings. “Suddenly I’m wondering,” she asks, “you think you know a person, and then you find out something surprising about that person, something you never expected to be true about that person—are they still them, or have they become someone else?” Thus begins a game of truth-telling to test this query… will the bandmembers still be the same after revealing their secrets?

Kookily costumed, diverse of age, uniformly peculiar, The Peripherals’ classifieds are unsurprisingly surprising: “I spent the first four years of my life in a home for the profoundly retarded,” answers one. “My kids call me Crudbunny,” says another.

What about “I’m a gay man but in love with a woman”? That would be the response of “John,” the oh-so-tormented axis of Cock, a new British import at the Duke. As the Peripherals would ask, upon revealing this choice news to his boyfriend, is John still John, or has he become someone else?

Or, more importantly, which John is the real John—straight John or gay John? That’s a question the man and woman sparring for John’s affections spill some heated emotional blood over. (And as inventively staged by James Macdonald on Miriam Buether’s intimate, plywood colosseum of a set, that battle is both delicately non-naturalistic and frighteningly real-life.)

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say the answer is complicated and uneasy. Come the finale, the question seems less about John’s sexuality than the high price of exposing one’s unassurednesses. (Pity, then, that so much of life is unassured!)

The Peripherals don’t let life’s identity crises bring them down quite like the characters in Cock, but they’re no less interested in those crises. Indeed, when a bandmember feels a revelation coming to mind, “It’s like God is moving all the furniture around in there.”

You can be a gay Brit or a Lower East Side rocker, but the game of life, it seems, is ever-changing, ever-perplexing.

_____________________________________

The Peripherals, at Dixon Place
By Ellen Maddow, directed by Ken RusSchmoll

Cock, at the Duke
By Mike Bartlett, directed by James Macdonald

The Peripherals photo by Darien Bates. Cock photo by Joan Marcus.

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