With Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueling it out eight times a week on Broadway, the timing could not be more auspicious for John Pollono’s audacious, irreverent, wholly original Rules Of Seconds, now playing at DTLA’s Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Pollono’s latest takes us back to the year 1855, introducing us to duel-addicted millionaire Walter Brown (Jamie Harris), twenty-seven men slain and counting, just one reason why destitute shipping company owner Martha Leeds (Amy Brenneman) and her 6’5” milquetoast son “Wings” (Matthew Elkins) have trepidations about the potential buyer’s impending visit, not the first time Mr. Brown has met Martha (“Your toes were dainty but spread apart and sinuous”) but the first she herself can recall.

Still, recollect said youthful encounter or not, papers are signed and all might well go without a hitch but for one tiny problem. OCD-plagued Wings has a thing about shaking hands, and when forced by Mr. Brown to do just that or forfeit the entire deal, poor Wings commits a faux pas so egregious, he soon finds himself in dire need of a second*.

Enter Wings’s dashing brother James (Josh Helman), exiled from Boston years before and about to ship back out to sea unless he can be convinced to stick around and rescue the family that had once shunned him “for all eternity.”

Also figuring in Rules Of Seconds’ large cast of characters is Mr. Brown’s Irish servant girl Hanna Leary (Jen Pollono), whom we first meet scooping up horse shit with aplomb; his associate and “general fixer of things” Señor Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza (Leandro Cano); his leech-loving physician Dr. Wright (Ron Bottitta, who also serves as our Narrator); his English bootblack Ron Bonnie (Andrew Lees) and West Indian coachman George Dyatt (Damu Malik); Albert Chang (Feodor Chin), a doctor in China reduced to pig specialist in Boston and a man who knows James’ dueling skills all too well; and Hollander (Lees) and Stillman (Malik), a pair of seconds with some rather unexpected albeit hypothetical yearnings.

From these multiple threads, playwright Pollono has woven an exhilaratingly original, cinematic treat, one that proves as delightful and quirky as it is unpredictable.

Factor in discussions of male psychology, female subservience, and human sexuality to its themes of honor and revenge (along with enough fake blood to do Tarantino proud) and you’ve got one humdinger of a Latino Theatre Company (in association with The Temblors) World Premiere.

Jo Bonney directs her stellar L.A.-based international cast with equal parts verve and glee, beginning with pitch-perfect American-accented Aussie hunk Helman’s James, Elkins’ damaged but undaunted Nathaniel, Harris’s Mr. Brown, as charismatic a heartless psychopath as heartless psychopaths get, and the radiant Brenneman’s steely but feminine Martha.

Pollonno’s feisty delight of an Irish lassie, Bottitta’s darkly mysterious Narrator (and his then cutting-edge Dr. Wright), Cano’s Latino mensch of a Señor Carranza, and Chin’s wry-humored immigrant physician are winners too.

Last but not least, the dashing Malik and the irresistible Lees steal every scene they’re in, from Dyett and Bonnie’s hilarious riff on horse-fucking to the homoerotic delights of Stillman and Hollander’s hypothesizing.

Rarely has more been done with curtains than in Richard Hoover’s ever morphing scenic design thanks in great measure to Hana Kim’s stunning projections, Neil Peter Jampolis’s vibrant lighting, and Ilana Molina’s multitude of period props. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’ period costumes have an appropriately contemporary flair as does Cricket S. Myers’ edgy scene-linking sound design.

Ned Mochel’s as-always authentic-looking violence design, Daniel Ponickley’s magical choreography, and the pitch-perfect American-English-Chinese-Irish-German accents affected by an American-British-Australian cast under Paul Wager’s dialect coaching deserve kudos as well.

Additional program credits are shared by assistant to the director Sara Fenton, assistant costume designer Megan Berlow, associate lighting designer John A. Garofalo, and assistant to the lighting designer Ginerva Lombardo.

Lilly Deerwater is production stage manager and Julianne Figueroa is assistant stage manager. Gabe Figueroa is production manager.

Rules Of Seconds is produced by Diana Buckhantz. Nate Edelman and T Tara Turk-Haynes are associate producers. Casting is by Deborah Aquila, CSA and Lisa Zagoria.

As intoxicatingly entertaining a new play as I’ve seen in a good long while, Rules Of Second further cements John Pollono’s reputation as one of our most adventurous and original writers. So delicious is this theatrical meal, you might well find yourself wanting to go back for seconds.

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Latino Theatre Company, Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), 514 South Spring Street, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 30, 2017
Photos: Grettel Cortes Photography

* a person who serves as a representative or attendant of a duelist


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