Playwright: Nick Jones. At: Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150; www.theaterwit.org; $20-$30. Runs through: Oct. 5
In a tribal culture. family is everything. In a pre-literate culture, what is said about one's family is everything. In a warrior culture, the willingness to die in the defense of these values is everything. Long after English society ceased to reflect these traits, however, its leaders retained the antiquated custom of dueling for the honor of one's kin, rendering it a "tradition"that is, a deed once serving a practical purpose that continues to be observed, even though its practicality may have waned.
Playwright Nick Jones thinks that risking physical injury over perceived slights is ridiculous, but his contempt is even greater for those who enlist others to fight their battles for themare modern analogies becoming more identifiable now? His thesis is illustrated by the scholarly young aristocrat Lucidus Cullen, whose reluctance to court death before dishonor is a disappointment to his father, despite two deceased sons falling, not bravely in war, but in trivial civil disputes. When Lucidus attempts to mimic the zeal of his late siblings, the plan arises of hiring a mercenary to fight in his stead, assuming his identity, while himself posing as the combatant's "second." Jones proceeds to follow this premise to its logical conclusion, frivolous bloodshed and body counts increasing to the likewise swelling applause of the Cullen clan and the repugnance of its sole heir.
You know you're at a comedy when the setting is given as "1790. Sort of" and the score of bridging music ( assembled for this Stage Left production by Alex Romberg ) is drawn from the faux-classical repertoire of the Vitamin String Quartet. Aly Renee Amidei's costumes also appeal to live-action-cartoon sensibilitiesat one point, amateur lepidopterist Lucidus wears a tricorne hat decorated with a large gauze butterfly. His effete homeys ( who speak slyly of "pie-tasting" excursions ) and self-absorbed fiancée are swaddled in frothy pastels, contrasting with the martial affectations of his elders and the rough field-garb of the ( literal ) freelancing thugs. Even the weapons gradually achieve farcical proportions as dainty pistols give way to firearms from the Quentin Tarantino armory.
All this provides plenty of chortles, but director Vance Smith and his cast, led by Brian Plocharczyk as the ambivalent Lucidus, aren't about to let us hide behind the looney-tunes antics, but instead play their archetypes with deadpan solemnity to ensure that the lessons of who embraces violence, who profits therefrom, and who rejects it, are not lost on us. To paraphrase from the period, if this be cowardice, gentlemen, make the most of it.