By David Walters

Sex begins first and foremost in our brains, then becomes expressed through our bodies.  There are three parts of our brain that get activated in the act, culminating in a shot of the pleasure chemical dopamine (that’s why about a third of friends-with-benefits end up falling in love).

Pedophilia, murder, rape, child abuse, drug use, suicide, misogyny, sexual language, physical violence, rape, child abandonment, asphyxiation, claustrophobia, rage, kidnapping, and imprisonment are all part of Rules of Desire, but are not what the play is about.  It is about the sex in our brains, how it gets confused for love, and how it often gets mistreated, obsessed over and abused.  A worthy subject.

Seaman Matt Cotton (Tristan Biber), the son of a Navy Vice Admiral who has been sent to sea to make a man of him, sneaks a girl he just met and thinks he’s in love with, Felicia (McKenna Harrington), onboard the nuclear carrier he is stationed on, wrapped in bubble wrap, an oxygen mask on her face and stuffed inside a duffel bag.  Of course, this cockamamy scheme comes to no good end.  

Chief Petty Officer, Matt’s superior, Alex Stone (Christopher Sutton), a known sex-offender, discovers the intruder, sees an opportunity and threatens both of them with life in jail in order to have his way with Felicia every day while Matt is on duty.  Feeling trapped on all sides, they consent.

When Matt goes to his job in the galley, the emotionally unstable Alex takes his time with Felicia trying to guide her to the rules of his desire that consume his unstable brain that have been misshapen since his childhood when his first love died in a horrific accident.  

Felicia has had her own messed up childhood, but she came out of hers with a modicum of empathy and self-honesty that he didn’t.  Those tools become her saving grace and the true power of the piece.

Rules of Desire is incredibly well written by William Mastrosimone and is the strong point of the evening.  Christoper Sutton quickly leaps into the sickness within Alex and leads us to his fateful end; McKenna Harrington carries the psychological history of Felicia in a way that is compelling and truthful, making it her own, that gives the drama its base; and Tristan Biber brings a saccharin sincerity to his role; but the ship they all get to set sail on with full sheets to the wind, is Mr. Mastrosimone’s script.  It is unrelenting in the pressure it puts on the story as it unfolds and it is a pleasure to see such a craftsman’s work. He’s still got it.

Rules of Desire, the new play by William Mastrosimone, directed by William Roudebush, which is playing a limited engagement (through March 21) at The Playroom Theater (151 West 46th Street, 8th floor (put a sign in the lobby)). 

The creative team includes Rob Wolin (set design), Joseph Shrope (costume design), Joan Racho-Jansen (lighting design) and Andy Evan Cohen (sound design).

The show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission and no late seating.

Behavioral scientists who study it tell us to really have love in our lives with another person, we must express empathy, control our emotions, and overlook the negatives in our partners and focus on the positives.  If you like strongly dramatic plays, go see this and see where true love lies.