Cocked Review - Gun Control Made Personal


Mike Tepeli, Patrese D. McClain and Kelli Simpkins in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


In a country inundated with gun violence and mass shootings, even the staunchest pacifists among us are forced to confront the intersection of our beliefs and our personal safety. These are the difficult issues playwright Sarah Gubbins grapples with in her new play Cocked, now playing in its world premiere at Victory Gardens. Following the story of couple Taylor and Izzie as they cope with a creepy upstairs neighbor and the disastrous choices of Taylor’s brother Frank, this new work encapsulates comedy, high stakes, and complex issues in turn.


Mike Tepeli in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


Taylor and Izzie have long agreed that they are against gun ownership on principle, especially because of Izzie’s work as a reporter, often covering stories of mass shootings and other gun violence. When Frank shows up, unannounced, in their Andersonville condo one day, Taylor demands that he leave immediately. Frank, for all that his exterior creates the impression of a well-meaning idiot, is more stubborn than he looks and wriggles his way into staying overnight and helping the couple with some “home improvement” projects, despite their repeated refusals. DIY projects are not the only area in which Frank sways the couple’s opinions; after learning that Izzie feels unsafe living so close to her mentally disturbed ex-Marine neighbor Ron, Frank convinces her to buy a gun from him without Taylor’s knowledge. As tension builds and the situations both within and without the condo escalate, Taylor and Izzie must confront what they thought they knew about each other—and themselves.


Kelli Simpkins, Mike Tepeli, and Patrese D. McClain in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


The strongest element of this piece is its engaging characterization. All three characters are rich and three-dimensional, offering both sympathetic qualities and flaws. Taylor’s career as a high-powered lawyer and unofficial role as caretaker for her family and Izzie elicits understanding for her often brusque way of interacting with others, while secrets revealed about her later in the show cast a dark shadow on her integrity. Despite his terrible judgement and the havoc he wreaks on his sister and her girlfriend’s lives, Frank still has a sincerity and vulnerability that make him appealing in spite of his faults. Izzie’s soft heart and role as neutral party in the conflict between Taylor and Frank make her perhaps the most relatable character onstage, but even her goodness is tainted by questionable decision-making later in the show.


Kelli Simpkins and Patrese D. McClain in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


Gubbins’ text tackles a hot-button issue from a deeply personal perspective. By scaling down a heated political topic into a series of interpersonal conflicts between a few flawed but nevertheless sympathetic people, Gubbins truly embraces the mantra of the second-wave feminists and makes the political personal. Her writing captures the best elements of the contemporary issue play, presenting multiple valid sides of an argument without passing judgement or advocating for a particular stance.  An ambiguous ending lends further significance to her approach, requiring the audience to speculate for themselves what would, could, or should have happened in the end.


Kelli Simpkins and Mike Tepeli in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


Despite the seriousness of its topic, the play still manages to be vivacious and funny. An over-the-top fight sequence in the second half of the show, choreographed by Sam Hubbard, has the audience in stitches, and scenic design by Chelsea M. Warren has a comic value all its own as Frank slowly destroys the condo. Sound design by Thomas Dixon is an essential element of the storytelling, as dog barks and video game music becoming defining elements of the characters’ relationship to upstairs neighbor Ron; Dixon captures this atmosphere skillfully.


Kelli Simpkins, Mike Tepeli, and Patrese D. McClain in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


The show’s cast features three talented and experienced actors who each bring strong choices and full-hearted commitment to their character work. Kelli Simpkins brings both a harsh edge and an impeccable sense of comedic timing to Taylor, and Mike Tepeli counters her with an earthy candor that makes Frank’s absurd choices seem believable. Patrese D. McClain gives warmth and intelligence to Izzie.


Patrese D. McClain in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens


Cocked is play that explores an issue, but is at its heart the story of three people trying to navigate personal relationships, political stances, and interpretations of reality, and that is where the piece finds its strength. This ninety-minute show packs a punch and explores its central questions with intelligence and humanity.  


Mike Tepeli and Kelli Simpkins in Sarah Gubbins' Cocked at Victory Gardens. All photos by Michael Courier


Ticket Information

Dates: February 20 – March 13, 2016



Tuesdays: 7:30pm

Wednesdays: 7:30pm

Thursdays: 7:30pm

Fridays: 7:30pm

Saturdays: 3:00pm; 7:30pm

Sundays: 3:00pm


Accessible Performances:

Word for Word (open caption) performances Friday, February 26 at 7:30pm. Saturday, February 27 at 3:00pm, and Wednesday, March 2 at 2:00pm

Audio Description performances Friday, February 26 at 7:30pm (Touch tour at 6:00pm), Sunday, March 6 at 3:00pm (Touch tour at 1:30pm)

ASL Interpreted and Word for Word (open caption) performance Friday, February 26 at 7:30pm


Location: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood

Tickets: $15 - $60

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. Call 773.871.3000 or visit the Victory Gardens website


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