The Rules of Charity is a 2005 play by the American playwrightJohn Belluso. The play premiered on April 23, 2005 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, California. It has since had an Off-Broadway run. The play focuses on a man named Monty with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, and whose adult daughter takes care of him.
John Belluso – whose contemporaries included the playwright Tony Kushner – used a wheelchair himself. His wheelchair use was a result of a bone disease called Camurati–Engelmann disease.The Rules of Charity, like most of Belluso’s work, explores what it means to be disabled or marginalized in modern American society. He was an advocate for writers, playwrights, and artists with disabilities and used his own personal experience to deepen and drive his own work. As a young playwright, Belluso worked with the New Dramatists, connecting with his fellow playwrights of the time and making an impression during his unfortunately short career that impacted many.
The Dramatists Play Service version of the published script contains, next to the character descriptions and play setting, a poem by Wallace Stevens entitled A Postcard from the Volcano. The poem speaks to the leaving behind of the experience of an older generation, a generation that suffered and that the younger generation will know nothing about.
This speaks to the themes of the play as a whole, as it focuses heavily on familial relationships, and the younger generation being so preoccupied with their own problems that they cannot see the long-suffering of the older generation.
The Rules of Charity focuses on a middle-aged man named Monty, and his daughter Loretta. Monty has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Loretta, a grown woman, cares for him. The play focuses around their relationship, the anger and resentment that lives within their connection, as well as the love between them. The play also focuses on how one navigates our world when one is an outsider, whether that is because of one’s ability or disability, sexuality, religion, or social class.
Structurally, The Rules of Charity is in a standard two-act dramatic structure with Act I taking place in the present day, and Act II taking place one year later. The play is also split up by named sections that divide up the action further, framed by a prologue and an epilogue.
The play opens with Loretta at the end of her rope, in the apartment that she and her father share, having just slapped her father, knocking over his wheelchair. “Cruelty is a form of goodness”, she tells him. Menacingly, but laced with the love that she has for her father, she tells him that she will only treat him with cruelty from that moment on.
The next morning, Loretta and Monty are at home, things are normal again. LH, the superintendent of the building comes in with a bottle of scotch, celebrating his recent raise. Monty invites him to stay for dinner, and LH encourages Monty to try and leave his apartment in order to look for a job. Monty refuses, and it is revealed that Monty and LH are secret lovers. LH tells Monty that he has invited over the daughter of the building owner Paz, who is a documentary filmmaker. She wants to talk to Monty. Monty is unsure, but LH assures him that everything will be fine.
Later that evening, Loretta meets a dull man named Horace by a street corner. They flirt and he asks her out on a date, which she refuses.
The next morning, Paz arrives with LH at Monty and Loretta’s apartment. Paz pitches her documentary to Monty – she wants to write about what she perceives as the enormous and dramatic struggle of the disabled. Monty is clearly far superior to her in intelligence, and does not take to her well. However, she offers him a large sum of money to be a part of her documentary, and so Monty promises LH that he will consider it. Monty and Loretta are left alone and share a brief moment of tenderness, it is also revealed that Loretta’s mother, Monty’s wife, is no longer living and that that day would have been her birthday.
Loretta returns to the street corner to invite Horace over to her apartment for dinner. Initially he is nervous about going to dinner, and says that he usually works until late at the fish factory. She promises him that she will give her father pills to fall asleep so that he can come over without Monty bothering them. He accepts, and she kisses him.
LH and Monty are alone, drinking in Loretta and Monty’s apartment. They recount the tales of Greek Mythology that LH read about in books that Monty lent him. Monty describes to LH what the Apothetai was in ancient Greece – the place where disabled babies were left to die. LH is very moved, and asks Monty if he knew he was gay, even when he was married. Monty says that yes, he did. Loretta then enters and puts Monty to bed, giving him his pill that helps him sleep. Monty whispers to himself that he wants to go away with LH and let her live on her own, and in doing so, he throws himself from his bed and lands on the floor. Angry and exasperated, Loretta tells him that he can sleep on the floor.