April 2, 2021 at 1:27 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
Randy Harrison tackles ‘Cock’ at Studio
Cock, gay news, Washington Blade

Kathryn Tkel and Randy Harrison in ‘Cock.’ (Photo courtesy of Studio Theatre)

‘Cock’
Streaming through April 18
Studio Theatre
Studiotheatre.org

“It’s like tug of war and John is the rope.” That’s how out actor Randy Harrison describes his character in “Cock,” Mike Bartlett’s provocatively titled seriocomedy currently streaming at Studio Theatre. The action surrounds John, a gay guy who is torn between staying with his partner or leaving him for a woman with whom he’s become unexpectedly smitten.

“He’s looking for a place to figure out who is he,” says Harrison. “John’s most aggressive act is his refusal to make a decision. Bartlett’s play is so well-constructed, you find yourself not too aggressively rooting for any one character, the allegiances are constantly shifting.”

Directed by Studio’s artistic director David Muse, “Cock” was the first show Studio rehearsed and filmed for its 2020-2021 all-digital season. The production is intriguingly minimal. There are no props, no miming, the set is a ring of sand appropriate for some kind of blood sport. “The writer wanted to strip everything away and narrow it down to the conflict, language, and discussion, forcing the actors and audience to focus in a different way,” says Harrison.

Aware of “Cock” since it was first published in 2009, he liked the play but never had the opportunity to be a part of production until now. When Muse asked him to play John he eagerly accepted. He joins a strong ensemble cast comprised of Scott Parkinson as M, John’s partner; Kathryn Tkel as W, John’s new love interest; and Alan Wade, as M’s father.

Harrison garnered TV fame for playing young Justin Taylor on Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” a rite of passage viewing experience for a lot of LGBTQ people. (“At the height of the show’s popularity, I couldn’t go out a lot – it was too much. That’s changed, [pre-Covid] I could go out and pretty much be a guy at a gay bar. Fans of the show sometimes recognize me and they’re nice about it.”)

After the series ended its five-year run in 2005, the out actor (now a boyish 43), turned his focus to the stage – regional, off-Broadway, and national tours including a successful turn as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” In 2011, Harrison acted in the American world premiere of Alan Bennett’s “The Habit of Art” at Studio Theatre, also directed by Muse.

Harrison successfully played an uneducated rent-boy thrust into the rarefied world of poet W.H. Auden.
Because he’s mostly off the tube and on the boards, Harrison likes how streaming allows him to reconnect with some audiences: “It gives me the opportunity to share my work with people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see it.”

But despite the streaming gigs, Harrison, like almost all theater folks, has suffered from a profound dearth of work and looks for ways to keep busy. While splitting time between his home in upstate New York and visiting family in Seattle, he decided to pursue a degree in psychology. “I had the time and the money, and by June 2020 I was going insane. Also, it’s sort of a natural transition – one of the reasons I was drawn to performing was about examining human behavior. Depending on how things go, I’m might pursue a graduate degree.”

Unsurprisingly, working on a play titled “Cock” comes with the obvious jokes (He says, “I’m going to D.C. to do ‘Cock’.” Friend replies, “Yeah, but are you working?”). Those jokes were funny for a while, he says, but the experience was about doing a really good play. Because of the pandemic, he missed out on bonding over after-rehearsal drinks with castmates and, of course, the run of a live show, but nonetheless, it’s been gratifying.

As an openly gay actor a for a long time, Harrison has some thoughts on the matter. “I was once a young gay kid who didn’t have anything close to my experience to watch on TV. We were desperate for that or any kind of representation in the 90s,” he says. “That’s changed a lot, and along with that the perception of gay actors has changed enormously too. And that’s benefited me and all gay actors.”

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