COCKED at Victory Gardens Theater

COCKED at Victory Gardens Theater

COCKED at Victory Gardens Triggers Both Shock and Amusement in Spot-On World Premiere Production

One of the most pervasive images in Sarah Gubbins’s play COCKED, now in its world premiere production at Victory Gardens under the direction of Joanie Schultz, is an incredibly shiny silver pistol. This prop pistol reveals itself at the end of the first scene in the play–and while it then quickly disappears, we know that it lingers–and that it has a high probability of going off at some point in the play. Likewise, Gubbins’s timely play, which is set in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood and examines our relationship with guns, strikes a balance between tense and frequently hilarious. Gubbins’ natural, laugh-out-loud funny dialogue for all three characters in the play never ceases to entertain but the tension underneath those moments of levity also stays present.

COCKED focuses on successful lawyer Taylor (Kelli Simpkins) and her girlfriend Izzie (Patrese D. McClain), a crime reporter whose work frequently focuses on gun violence in the city. Taylor and Izzie’s relationship certainly seems to have a shaky foundation at the top of the play, but this becomes further complicated when Taylor’s screw-up brother Frank (Mike Tepeli) shows up on their doorstep. Taylor and Izzie soon tell Frank that they have a rather strange new neighbor, a seemingly unstable ex-Marine with a dog that barks non-stop and who leaves his guns and ammo magazines in the building lobby. Frank suggests to Izzie that keeping a firearm in the apartment might help alleviate her unease–and unbeknownst to Taylor, she decides to buy that shiny pistol from him. As the situation escalates throughout the play’s 90-minute run time, audiences are taken for a ride equal parts hilarious and uneasy.

Under Schultz’s direction, COCKED is brought to scintillating life. Simpkins, McClain, and Tepeli all give finely-honed performances and master Gubbins’s dialogue, which is clever and natural but also remains pointed and effective. Gubbins’s language feels real but also thoroughly economical–no time is wasted in this fast-moving piece. A sample interaction: Izzie tells Frank in an early scene, “We don’t believe in guns.” Frank’s earnest response? “Guns exist.” The play is peppered with such quippy exchanges that both manage to amuse and yet also clearly articulate the two sides being argued in this play. Tepeli manages to make Frank seem charming, even though many of his character’s actions are utterly despicable. When Tepeli delivers lines such as the one above, it’s hard not to find him genial. As Izzie, McClain gives a touching performance for a character who so clearly longs to feel safe in her home, in her relationship, and in her community. As Taylor, Simpkins strikes an effective balance between terse and emotional–she tries to be firm with Frank but also allows us to see the troubled woman beneath the surface. Simpkins’s and Tepeli’s sibling dynamic is also a sheer delight to watch; they bicker like children but also always give audiences a sense of the much larger issues lurking underneath.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to the playwright and director, the rest of the creative team for COCKED is almost entirely female–a rarity even for theater in 2016 (the Kilroys would be overjoyed by this). The action takes place on Chelsea M. Warren’s beautiful, realistic set and Janice Pytel’s costumes lend an air of authenticity to the production. Sarah Hughey’s lighting design and Thomas Dixon’s sound design also set the stage nicely for the escalating action in COCKED.

Victory Gardens’ production of COCKED ensures audiences are locked and loaded for a night of theater that’s effectively entertaining and uncomfortable, just as a compelling play should be.

Photo by Michael Courier

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