Provocative title proves a selling point

As legiters will tell you, producing Off Broadway is hard. And it would seem even harder for “Cock,” the play that opened May 17 with a title that’s deemed unprintable by a large number of media and advertising outlets.

But producers are finding that what looked like a serious obstacle may instead be arousing consumer interest in the often unsexy neighborhood of the Off Broadway play.

“In a funny way, not being able to use the title has helped a bit,” says Stuart Thompson, who teamed with Jean Doumanian to produce the show. “It piques curiosity.”

Producers theorize that cryptic references to the title in publications with conservative style guides, in which the show is often referred to as “The Cockfight Play” (which also serves as the URL for the production’s website), sends readers online to find out more. Passersby are grabbed by the show’s 42nd Street marquee — a big rooster on a bright yellow background, with the head-turning title below it — and some stop to take photos.

“People love the title,” Doumanian says. “It’s provocative.”

The storyline of Mike Bartlett’s play centers on a young man, played Off Broadway by Cory Michael Smith, torn between his longtime boyfriend (Jason Butler Harner) and the woman he unexpectedly falls for (Amanda Quaid) during a hiccup in the men’s relationship. James Macdonald helms, reprising his directorial duties following the play’s 2009 world premiere at the Royal Court in London.

In Blighty, the title, which refers as much to a cockfight as to part of the male anatomy, was printed with nary a peep of resistance. For Stateside producers, however, it proved one of a couple of unusual obstacles.

Replicating the design of the Court production, the play is staged on a tightly hemmed-in space without props or furniture, with the audience arranged in a 360-degree amphitheater constructed specifically for the production. Thompson says he and his producers looked at close to 30 rental venues, plus a handful of found spaces, for the show. They also toyed with the idea of pairing with a nonprofit on the piece, but opted against that, in part because the available stages wouldn’t work for the show’s design.

With a cast of just four actors and capitalized at a bit less than $500,000, “Cock” could recoup in as little as 12 weeks in a best case scenario, according to Thompson.

In today’s Off Broadway climate, where it’s easy for shows to be overshadowed by Rialto productions with their hefty marketing budgets, an attention-grabbing hook like an unprintable title isn’t such a bad thing.

Doumanian is also a producer of the commercial Off Broadway production of well-reviewed play “Tribes.” She says that show benefits from the establishment of the venue, the Barrow Street Theater, as a destination for theatergoers in the wake of its successful and long-running production of “Our Town” (also produced by Doumanian).

Similarly, another commercial Off Broadway effort, the upcoming summer stint of spoof “Potted Potter,” hopes to turn heads with its reference to the Harry Potter franchise, which it lampoons.

Every little bit helps, Thompson says. Even the inadvertent double-entendres that come with the territory.

“It’s great exposure,” he deadpans.

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