Violent Acts at the LATC


Duels and Death Take Center State in ‘Rules of Seconds’

By Nicholas Slayton

Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography
DTLA – Blood! Brothers! Boston! Bravado! With its violence and 19th century New England location, Rules of Seconds could be a thriller from Ben Affleck. Instead, it’s a world premiere play that balances bloodshed and dark comedy in a tale of social norms, family secrets and class inequalities.

Directed by Jo Bonney (who helmed last year’s Father Comes Home From the Wars at the Mark Taper Forum), Rules of Seconds debuted at the Historic Core’s Los Angeles Theatre Center on Thursday, March 23. The show runs through April 15. The short run is due to the actors’ tight schedules, Bonney said.

The show follows Nathaniel “Wings” Leeds (played by Matthew Elkins), an obsessive-compulsive man who unwittingly finds himself challenged to a duel by Boston’s most notorious fighter, Walter Brown (Jamie Harris). In the effort to make it through the ordeal, Wings enlists his skilled brother James (Josh Helman), while their mother Martha (Amy Brenneman, whose credits include the TV drama “Judging Amy”) gets caught up in the events.

Playwright John Pollono said the story had been kicking around his head for years. He had become fascinated with duels, and the idea that gentleman could elevate certain slights or dishonors into a literal matter of life and death in the effort to preserve their manhood.

“Duels were more common than we realize back then. I had it take place in Boston because I’m from there,” Pollono said. “The inspiration was to draw a line between dueling and modern toxic masculinity. You see guys have a couple beers in a bar in Boston and then get into a fistfight. I understand that.”

The title refers to “seconds” in duels. Once a duel is arranged, the fighters would pick someone as a second (in Wings’ case, his brother), who serves as a mediator and can try to resolve the matter before it comes to violence. Brenneman said that in the play, every character is aware of how absurd a duel to the death is, but they keep barreling toward it. In doing so, they have to follow a “gentlemanly” code.

“There’s all of this social protocol and rules and it’s all about blowing people’s heads off,” said Brenneman, also known for her role in the HBO series “The Leftovers.”

This marks Bonney’s third collaboration with Pollono. The show wound up in Downtown Los Angeles thanks to Pollono’s role in the Temblors. That’s a group of seven playwrights who partner with the Latino Theater Company, which operates the LATC.

Pollono said Rules of Seconds is his riskiest work as a playwright. Some actors play multiple roles; others occasionally break the fourth wall. He and Bonney both said the show is in the vein of the Grand Guignol, a Parisian theater known for its horror entertainment and grandiose elements, or the works of Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonough.

That comes through in the violence. Although there won’t be massive spurts of blood, Bonney said that the rough stuff is heightened for the stage.

“The very nature of people challenging each other and always stepping up to feel like they’re in control, that’s what leads us to war,” Bonney said. “So you just have to play it for the reality. When you play it for reality you realize how absurd it is.”

Key to that are the women in the play, who serve as a foil to the rampant masculinity. This is particularly true for the character of Martha. Brenneman said that the women in the show are trapped by the customs of the day. They have to watch the dueling process play out, and are unable to intervene in the violent spectacles of men.

The play also explores class differences and the ideas of privilege. Harris’ antagonist is a man of means, while the Leeds family is working class. Other characters include immigrants trying to make it in the United States. Bonney said that as with the violence, the show attempts to present the social structure in order to highlight the absurdity of it.

That social critique just happens to involve plenty of mayhem.

The Rules of Seconds runs through April 15 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., (213) 489-0994 or

John Pollono’s ‘Rules of Seconds’ World Premieres in Los Angeles


By Patrick Pizzolorusso
Directed by Jo Bonney, the dark comedy is the first work to come out of The Temblors collective.

'Rules of Seconds' - Photo by Grettel Cortes
'Rules of Seconds' - Photo by Grettel Cortes
'Rules of Seconds' - Photo by Grettel Cortes 'Rules of Seconds' - Photo by Grettel Cortes

(Photos by Grettel Cortes, The Temblors)

The Latino Theatre Company and The Temblors, a collective consisting of seven Los Angeles-based playwrights, have teamed up to produce Rules of Seconds, a new play by John Pollono world premiering March 23 at the Los Angeles Theater Center.

Directed by Obie Award-winner Jo Bonney, Rules of Seconds is a dark comedic period piece centering on life in the 19th century. It’s 1855 in Boston and life is “governed by an archaic code of dueling,” according to Pollono. “The idea that the slightest infraction between gentlemen was grounds for a challenge to be resolved with pistols, a fight to the death. That ridiculousness of sticking to rules at all costs in order to be a man seems the perfect way to comment on modern culture and politics.”

While set in 1855, it was written with 2017 sensibilities and quirk, along with an eye for the current political climate. According to Bonney, “The mix of characters comes from all strata of society: the privileged elite, the working class, and immigrants from many cultures. It’s interesting to look at American class structure through the eyes of the 19th century and see how it remains relevant today, with the power and money still concentrated, with the few who get to set the rules for the many.”

In Rules of Seconds, we find Nathanial “Wings” Leeds, a sufferer of OCD, challenged to a duel by Boston’s “most dangerous man.” In order to survive this ordeal he enlists the help of his estranged brother, a respected and known duelist.

“Armed duels, honor, integrity, stubbornness, these are all very Trump-like ideas,” said Artistic Director Jose Luis Valenzuela. “We have a main character being relentless and stubborn and we see how in the name of honor and integrity you arm the state and the country. It’s a very funny exploration about these rights.
The production stars Joshua Bitton (HBO’S The Night Of), Ron Bottitta (Superior Donuts at the Geffen), Amy Brenneman (The Leftovers), Leandro Cano (American Falls at Echo Theater Company), Feodor Chin (Macbeth at A Noise Within), Damu Malik (One Night in Miami at Rogue Machine), Matthew Elkins (Pocatello at Rogue Machine), Jamie Harris (AMC’s Turn), Josh Helman (X-Men: Apocolypse), and Jennifer Pollono.

The producing collective, The Temblors, is a group of seven acclaimed Los Angeles-based playwrights pledged to enhance Los Angeles theatre by working on and creating original works at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Each of the seven members is charged with creating and producing a world premiere over a four-year period. At the end of that period the members will step down and pass the collective on to a new group. The goal is to create a cycle of new plays “by and for the people of Los Angeles.”

“We have to do everything we can to encourage and celebrate the voices in L.A.’s theatre community,” said Valenzuela. “This will give us a chance to really focus on and lift up L.A. playwrights. With The Temblors, every year we’ll produce two shows. Multiracial and multicultural shows with all members of the group helping and supporting not only each other as their working on their own plays, but focusing on workshopping one at a time. Working toward the ultimate goal, which is getting that show up and on its feet and ready for an audience.”

Rules of Seconds runs from March 16–April 15 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

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IndieWire Critics Survey


Which TV Show Is the Most Challenging to Write About?

TV critics weigh in on the shows that can be difficult to cover for various reasons.

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61),

“The Leftovers”: I tell people to watch this show all the time because it’s so good and when they ask why it’s so good, I awkwardly stumble through an answer that doesn’t at all do justice to it. The struggle is also real whenever I write about it, because I know nothing I write will adequately capture the brilliant catharsis of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s bleak and hopeful mosaic of grief and the unknowable. So I usually resort to reminding everyone how sweaty Justin Theroux is.


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Here Are The Spring 2017 TV Shows We Can’t Wait To Watch


The winter TV programming was pretty hit-or-miss this year: The Americans, Feud, Big Little Lies and Legion were all must-see shows, but Iron Fist was a disaster, Taboo was a waste of Tom Hardy, and Homeland has been mired in its least-compelling season ever (and yes, that counts the season in which Brody was forced to become a heroin addict and Dana and her shitty boyfriend ran over someone). But worry not, because we have the two most exciting months of TV premieres coming up, with a killer lineup of shows that will keep you glued to your couches for hours upon hours. Below, check out a list of our most anticipated shows for spring 2017.

THE LEFTOVERS (HBO, April 16th): The most depressing (and oftentimes beautiful) show on TV about family, miracles and the healing power of smoking cigarettes returns after a year-long break for its third and final season. We know both the Garvey and Murphy clans will be back, and we know the season will partially take place in Texas and partially in Australia (which, lest you forgot, is where Kevin Garvey Sr. was last seen). Will we have another visit to the purgatory-like afterlife? (Based on the trailer, yup!) Will the show explain the origins of the Sudden Departure? And how many times will Carrie Coon and/or Regina King make us cry?

Check out their full list here:

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