Rules of Seconds Review - The Gentlemen's Code of Honor

Playwright John Pollono has brought tongue-in-cheek to a new level with RULES OF SECONDS. This clever, rollicking, and very satirical look at what constitutes a “real man” in nineteenth century New England will have the audience roaring, even as blood spurts to the ceiling and the principals drop like flies. At the same time ludicrous (by today’s standards) and “real-life” melodramatic (by historic standards), RULES OF SECONDS asks some significant questions about manhood and what courage means while weaving an uproariously absurd tale of life 150 years ago. The “Code Duello” certainly made some ridiculous “honor and bloodshed” demands on those of the male persuasion.

Matthew Elkins, Josh Helman, Damu Malik, Feodor Chin, Joshua Bitton, Ron Bottitta, Leandro Cano, and Jamie Harris - Photo by Grettel Cortes

RULES OF SECONDS is the premiere presentation of a new group of seven Los Angeles playwrights called “The Temblors.” The “collective” plans to produce world premieres by local writers bridging the gap between the area’s intimate, 99-seat stages and larger regional venues. If this play is any example, their future productions should be both exciting and engrossing.

Matthew Elkins, Amy Brenneman, and Josh Helman - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Set in Boston 1855, wifely and supposedly submissive Martha Leeds (Amy Brenneman) has two sons, Nathaniel “Wings” (Matthew Elkins) and James (Josh Helman). Wings is a sensitive germophobic who wouldn’t hurt a fly, while James is a dashing, rather unprincipled guy who would – and not only a fly.  The family has fallen on hard times, and finally even the family horse found its way to their menu. What to do when Wings is called out to duel Walter Brown (Jamie Harris), a very rich and amoral fellow who was going to buy the Leeds shipping business until Wings accidentally spilled some tea on Brown’s favorite boots. This is clearly a matter of honor. To make sure that the audience doesn’t miss any of the key elements in the “Code,” Narrator Ron Bottitta keeps them on course by occasionally popping up to clarify what would have been commonplace knowledge 200 years ago.

Leandro Cano and Jamie Harris - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Why is Brown so enraged over what many might see as an accident? As it turns out, decades before – when Martha was a carefree and very pretty young girl - Brown met and became instantly enamored of her. Her nonchalant rejection of his offer for a dance still stings his masculine ego, especially when she doesn’t even remember meeting him years later. With the “Code Duello” now dictating the course of the action, what hope is there for a conflict-free resolution? Can simple apologies avert a disaster?

Ron Bottitta - Photo by Grettel Cortes

RULES OF SECONDS is a lively, absurd, hysterical cobbling together of the multiple strands of plot intertwined with the culture of the time. Occasional anachronistic elements surface to tickle the audience’s funny bone even further.  Director Jo Bonney has done as excellent job of moving the surprisingly complex play forward with pacing which picks up as that promised duel draws closer. The cast does a superb job of believably portraying the characters in this melodramatic satire – keeping an eye on the “correct” response of the time and the silly elements that emerge unbidden. Audience alert: some of the local prejudices of the time are openly noted.

Matthew Elkins, Joshua Bitton, Damu Malik, Josh Helman, Jennifer Pollono, Leandro Cano, and Jamie Harris - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Richard Hoover’s scenic design, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s costumes, Neil Peter Jampolis’ lighting, and Cricket S. Myers’ sound all combine to make this a believably unbelievable story of the stringent codes which at one time governed people’s lives. Playwright Pollono has done a terrific job of bringing the past to our doorsteps with humor and a real sense of fun.

RULES OF SECONDS runs through April 15, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Los Angeles Theatre Center is located at 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets range from $22 to $52. For information and reservations, call 866-811-4111 or go online.  

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