Perhaps there is no easy way to show different facets of love on stage without dwelling on why love that is meant to be will be (and will thrive) and what isn’t meant to be will just end (and shouldn’t be belabored past its expiration date). Kotryna Gesait’s Cocoon, after much heralded productions in a number of Fringe festivals, comes to New York in a simple production that allows the audience to appreciate the joyous beginnings of new love and commiserate when it goes south.
The first vignette, a monologue for a character known as The Unrequited, is performed by an astounding Helen Farmer who manages to capture the highs and lows of putting too much emphasis on that first date, accompanied by so much excitement and dread, and if anything does go wrong it is the fault of Disney, who in every animated love story has set up the expectations, thereby setting up a naïve lover to be a surefire potential for failure. The alternative? “I had thought there are two main roads to phantom Mecca. The first is to settle, often and for long periods of time. And you’ve seen these people…they smile and pick lint off each other while encouraging you to join a dating site…The other is to hold out, to wait for the throttling, thrashing, the mind-blowing love that sets a bomb off in your life, destroys you in the cleansing fire of passion and you phoenix as a new, evolved all around better version of yourself.”
The second vignette features the pairing of He and She, otherwise referred to as “The Diametrics.” As He, Ryan Ward has the unfortunate chore of trying to understand where he is in his relationship and why She, played by Alanah Allen, is so miserably unhappy with the love he is so ready to keep giving her. Disney could not possibly prepare He for the onslaught of hairpin emotional turns She subjects him to. “What is this. I’ll tell you what it is: a complete denial of the situation, complete ignorance of my emotional state and honestly, a disrespect of my body. Compartmentalizing my feelings and my body and my spirit,” to which He can only respond, “I don’t know what’s happening.” Seconds later, She continues, “Really, you don’t think this sucks?” He offers, “Well yeah right now, kinda. But normally. I mean…what do you want from me?” It is an endless barrage, but She can’t help herself. He pleads, “What do you want? I love you. I won’t stop. What do you want me to do now, peel my skin off so you can wear it as a coat? What? You want to see me break?” Sheepishly, She answers, “I just need to know that you’re suffering.” A scene that masquerades as linear is anything but, right until the moment He leaves.
The third vignette, “The Relover,” is a tour de force for actor Jud Meyers, as a man that has lived through a life of being marginalized as a gay man, finding love in what has come to be known as a “homonormative” (and finally accepted by most) relationship with another gay man only to experience their love once again when his partner goes for gender confirmation surgery. This is clearly the most haunting of the four vignettes. The love they have for each other as two gay men is undeniable, and where his partner’s physical, emotional and mental health is at risk without the surgery and hormone shots, the Relover rises to the occasion to affirm his love for this individual he is so adamantly still in love with. It is a heightened renewal of their devotion. “We were right in a way that transcended time and matter. I closed my eyes and imagined us dying and being reborn in different bodies and finding one another every time.” Meyers paints a touching portrait of a man who has an opportunity to fall in love with the same person all over again.
The last vignette, “The Infatuants,” introduces us to two women the morning after a bar hookup. Melinda Nanovsky (Infatuant 1) wakes up in this stranger’s (Erin Margaret Pettigrew as Infatuant 2) apartment. 2 is not used to having women stay overnight, citing a regular morning routine a stranger would only get in the way of. This vignette harbors no surprises…if anything, it brings to mind the standard lesbian joke of what lesbians bring to a second date…the U-Haul. Each woman, barely knowing the other, has the facility of finishing the other one’s sentence as if they’ve known each other for years. If it can be considered a surprise, the only thing one would find alarming is how quickly they find interests in common that they can discuss love, past relationships and the thought of having children. An interesting exchange:
Infatuant 1: Why are you single?
Infatuant 2: Because relationships are hard and I suck at them.
Infatuant 1: Everyone says that.
Infatuant 2: They do. But I don’t think it’s true for everyone. I think some people are very good at them. Some people thrive when they’re coupled and the rest of us have to run through a forest fire with our eyes closed and hope we don’t catch fire.”
Both women are exceptional at the repartee that keeps their story going in the direction we know it will take.
Director Kotryna Gesait’s direction does not have the necessary distance from the material to realize that actors speaking simultaneously will blur content and intentions for the audience. Scenic design of Chantal Marks provides the obligatory cocoon-like fabrics draped from the ceiling as well as on the walls. Heather Crocker’s lighting design is supportive of the many changing moods of the piece from scene to scene. The sound design of Nadav Rayman underlines key shifts beautifully.
Cocoon (through December 10, 2022)
Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.cocoonplay.com
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission