As the audience arrives at the Phoenix Theatre tonight for the opening of The Cock Fight Play, they’ll immediately notice something different about the auditorium. Normally, guests would walk in, find their seats, and all would face one direction toward the stage. Lead producer Bryan Fonseca and technical producer Jeff Martin said to hell with that, and placed the stage in the center of the Phoenix’s largest space with seating on two sides—a first since the theater’s inception 30 years ago. They also gave the stage the look and feel of a bloody, barbed wire–wrapped boxing ring.
The Cock Fight Play tells the story of a man’s struggle to decide whether he wants to stay with his male lover or pursue his newfound love for a woman. The main character leaves an older man after they had been dating for a few years. Within a short period of time, he meets an attractive lady, likes her, and starts a relationship. In turn, he panics and sprints back to his lover to explain what he’s done. Once the show hits this scene, “That’s when the play actually begins,” Fonseca says. “Then the fireworks start.”
Fonseca wanted the audience to instantly recognize that they were in the midst of an intense, dirty breakup, and he wondered if he might be able to convey that feeling with the stage itself. He and Martin sat down to discuss how they could go about building a stage that would best represent the metaphor behind the story. The Cock Fight Play has been performed around the U.S., and Fonseca and Martin looked at a variety of stages. According to Fonseca, the New York production had a minimalist, Greek-like feel. The Chicago production was very “earthy,” and the setting felt rural. “That’s what’s great about theater,” said Fonseca. “Five different directors can take five different approaches to a play.”
Their final draft transformed the stage into the apocalyptic boxing ring. With the audience on both sides of the stage, viewers will be much closer to the action than usual. According to Martin, who has watched technical runs of the show from both sides of the stage, you get a different feel from each. “Not to say that either side is better or worse [you’re still getting the same show], but there’s such a unique experience for each one,” he says. “There are certain looks and connections you get on one side that you don’t from the other.”
Once the play finishes its run on July 6, the stage will be torn apart, and the wood and other materials will be used for different sets—which is probably a lot like how the characters feel at the end of this play.
The Cock Fight by Mike Bartlett, June 12–July 6. Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave., 317-635-7529, phoenixtheatre.org, Thurs. 7 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets $18.
Photos by Joe Ruley and courtesy Zach Rosing; video courtesy Ben Rose