Friday, August 24, 2018

“Rules of Charity” is not charitable toward its characters

Rules of Charity (Ken Holmes)
Rules of Charity
Sound Theatre Company
Through August 25, 2018

It’s pretty apparent what drew folks at Sound Theatre Company toward the play Rules of Charity by the late John Belluso. Belluso was a playwright with physical challenges and wrote characters with physical challenges in his plays. STC’s theme is toward “radical inclusion” and that theme has been reflected by identifying barriers unwittingly erected against variously challenged communities and working to eradicate them.

In some areas, the company has been extraordinarily successful, particularly in their gorgeous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with deaf and hearing actors, giving the deaf community both access to Shakespeare from watching an ASL-signed production and also giving more platform to deaf actors to perform.

While Rules of Charity is written with the central character as a man living with cerebral palsy, the play itself is much less successful in connecting emotionally with an audience. It’s clear that many audience members disagree with that statement, and some have been and will be deeply connected.

For me, the script did not succeed in connecting me emotionally to any of the characters, and all five of them are disturbing and challenged, though only one of them is physically tied to a wheelchair. Certainly it’s not for lack of the actors giving their all and it’s a fine cast with actors I have seen do fine work in other plays.

The leads, Andrew Litzky as Monty, the man with CP, and Sharon Barto Gouran as his daughter, Loretta, are caught in a physical and financial bind. Monty cannot take care of himself and Loretta has promised her dead mother to take care of her father. We’re never told why Loretta can’t earn a living while doing so, we just have to accept that she has to live off his Social Security check which is not enough for two people to live on.

But we experience Loretta as a deeply flawed and tortured individual, from the first moment we see her, assaulting her floor-bound father out of frustration while spouting intellectually-challenging comparisons about love and cruelty. Then we see her wandering the streets, and interacting with a man (Fune Tautala) at first in stereotypical “pick up” ways, and then somehow connecting enough with him that he almost becomes a “real” relationship.

Monty is written as a stuck, but honest, individual, who has finally been able to acknowledge that he is gay. Though Loretta accepts this about him, it causes her emotional difficulty in understanding whether his love for her mother was real, though he says it was. However, Monty is such a stuck character that it’s very hard to imagine anyone in any prior time in his life becoming a love interest, much less a wife and mother with him. We’re given no understanding of that past.

Two other characters intersect with Monty: a building handyman (Hisam Goueli) and the daughter of the building owner (Maile Wong). Monty is in love with LH, the handyman, and LH does seem lovingly connected to Monty, too, but then we learn that he’s also “with” Paz/Julia, the daughter, who wants to make a film about Monty’s life.

Again, these characters are unlikable and in many senses unbelievable. We’re supposed to believe that the well-off building owner would let his daughter associate with and have a relationship with a penniless, unschooled handyman, and that she would be attracted to him after being privately schooled and having access to the best commodities. It’s a lot to swallow.

Clearly, plays with folks in wheelchairs, and their difficulties and struggles to carve out rich lives for themselves emotionally and societally, are few and far between. It’s easy to see why the play was chosen. I could only wish that they might find one that is more emotionally satisfying for an audience, possibly with characters we can also like.

For more information, go to or

No comments:

Post a Comment

This is a moderated comment section. Any comment can be deleted if the moderator feels that basic civility standards are not being met. Disagreements, however, if respectfully stated, are certainly welcome. Just keep the discussion intelligent and relatively kind.