Cock. If that doesn’t put Google’s algorithms into a tailspin, nothing will. And even as the title of Mike Bartlett’s play raises a few eyebrows, it most certainly gets your attention.

“People ask me what I’m working on right now, and when I tell them I’m working on Cock, it brings up all kinds of reactions,” laughs actor Shawn Macdonald, who will perform in the upcoming Rumble Theatre production as the opener to its twenty-fifth season. “Their ears definitely perk up, and when I tell them the premise of the play they are even more interested.”

While the initial interest might come from its provocative title, Macdonald does admit that Cock isn’t quite as racy as one might think as it tells its story of John, who after breaking up with his longtime boyfriend finds himself in love with a woman. Torn between the two, John brings them together to talk it out. To complicate matters, the father of John’s boyfriend is unexpectedly invited to the dinner where it all goes down.

“It is a relationship play about a breakup, coming back together, and deciding if you’re going to stay together,” says Macdonald who plays John’s boyfriend. “It is really about identity and discovering who you are from the people around you.”

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Shawn Macdonald gets all kinds of reactions from people when he tells them his current project is Cock

While Cock takes its name partly from the slang term for the male sex organ, it is also meant to conjure images of a cockfight. To help illustrate that metaphor, Bartlett dictates that his play is to be performed on a small stage with the audience in-the-round, looking down on the action, similar to how you would view a real cockfight. It is also stripped of stage directions, sets, props and costumes.

“It is really fascinating to be in a play where you can’t rely on furniture, props or stuff as a place to hide or busy yourself with a task,” says Macdonald. “It is quite naked out there, and it means you really have to focus on what your character is fighting for, and that is really challenging as an actor.”

Calling it a more abstract experience than a regular play, Macdonald says that by taking everything away, except the words, allows the characters to take focus.

“You understand the action of the play simply through the dialogue,” he says. “It is tight and concise and really makes you understand what great writing is.”

In addition to its exploration of identity, Bartlett also explores the fluidity of sexuality that ignores the gay, straight or bisexual labels. In a 2013 interview with New York Metro’s T. Michelle Murphy, Bartlett said: “I had noticed there were a lot of people I knew who would say they were gay or say they were straight, but had experiences that were the opposite of that.” It is a theme that Macdonald believes will resonate with younger audiences.

“John represents a breed of new sexual beings that we are seeing in millennial and younger generations, where labels and categories mean less and less,” says Macdonald. “There is a mature understanding of what makes a good relationship well beyond who you sleep with, and John gives voice to a new way of expressing sexuality.”

While the exploration of sexual fluidity might appeal to a younger demographic, Macdonald also says that the other characters in Cock represent some of society’s more traditional views, and in turn creates some of the play’s tension.

“You also have my character who is politicized, lived through the AIDS crisis and has a different perspective on sexuality, and what it means to identify as a gay man,” he says. “Then there is the father who has a whole other view of things, and his journey with having a gay son.”

But before you get the idea that Cock is an intellectual exercise on modern-day sexuality, Macdonald is quick to point out that it is also very funny.

“It’s written in the tradition of British drawing room comedy, or Oscar Wilde,” he says. “It is dead funny, and beautifully written.”

Cock plays Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) October 29 – November 8. Visit http://rumble.org for tickets and information.