Rules of Desire

Four weird things about this dramatic comedy—or is it a comedic drama?

By Andrew Andrews

McKenna Harrington and Christopher Sutton star in William Mastrosimone’s Rules of Desire, directed by William Roudebush at the Playroom Theater in Midtown. Original photos by Russ Rowland.

Seaman Matt Cotton has smuggled his new girlfriend Felicia onto his departing US aircraft carrier, with the intent of hiding the stowaway in an airlock that is usually only accessed by its inspector, who in this case happens to be Matt.

Trouble begins upon arrival, when Felicia discovers that her new secret digs are missing not only a window, but a bathroom as well. Meanwhile, the overwhelming sound of sewage rushing through pipes repeatedly torments her with knowledge that running water and flushing toilets are just out of reach.

Soon thereafter, the shit really hits the fan when Chief Petty Officer Alex Stone discovers the lovebirds in their lair, and threatens to expose Matt as a traitor and Felicia as a spy unless they make a deal.

Specifically, Felicia must agree to have sex with Stone every day while Matt is away on-duty, and Matt must agree to effectively share the woman he says he intends to marry.

A few points about this production struck me as, shall I say, weird:

Felicia (McKenna Harrington) and Matt (Tristan Biber).
  1. The first two-thirds of the story are too serious to make this feel like a comedy, but too awkward to feel like a drama. This uncertainty really troubled me, until the plot finally solidified and redeemed itself in the end.
  2. The set, sound and lighting design are much better than most shows I’ve attended in this space. However, combined with the $59 ticket price, this also increased my expectation for a certain level of overall quality that the lack of congruity and the “close enough” approach to costumes failed to supply.
  3. Felicia’s claim that she ran away with Matt to avoid being placed into a foster home identifies her as a minor, making the sexually-explicit context even more disturbing.
  4. For most of the story it appears that Felicia and Stone are clearly the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. By the final scene, however, the distinction is not so clear.

While my partner enjoyed the originality of this story, I can’t help but feel it needs more time in the workshop—or perhaps a different treatment from another director—to raise Rules of Desire from a semi-dramatic commentary on sexual abuse in the military to a production worthy of a twenty-one gun salute.


Andrew Andrews attended Rules of Desire at Playroom Theater in Manhattan on Wednesday, February 19, 2020 @ 7:30pm to write this review.