There are some good performances in The Runner Stumbles, and a very simple, elegant direction for the piece, but all of this only exacerbates how upright the script is. It shies away from emotion, hiding in melodramatic testimonies or in restrained religiosity, and this makes even the balanced ideas seem feeble where they should be febrile.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The Runner Stumbles is a contemplative drama that needs to learn from its own title; written in 1976 by Milan Stitt, this play is so stilted that it never has the opportunity to fall into any emotion. The subject is about the improper affair between a nun and her priest, so it's already chaste and tasteful: what the play needs are some teeth. Instead, it throws in a weak murder trial to frame the play, and then sends contemplative memories swinging in and out of the prison through imposing hinged gates.
The best moments are those that match Father Rivard's unstinting intellectualism against Sister Rita's practical interpretations and Mrs. Shandig's deep-seated emotional beliefs, for Stitt's proselytizing is balanced enough that at times it serves as a suitable dramatic replacement. However, as the play sluggishly continues, the audience needs something to break up the monotony, and the disconnected melodrama of the courthouse scenes is not the answer. Furthermore, there's a bland repetition in this back and forth: we see Louise and Erna testify in the present, but then also watch the memories they've just iterated being formed in the past.
When director Scott Alan Evans is allowed to drop the baggage, he manages to focus quite well on the acting; there's a great moment of restraint where Rivard, Rita, and Shandig are all sitting in the same room, giving one another the silent treatment as they go about their daily work. The three eventually argue their way into praying together, and the shocking thought is that just as religion is what splits them apart, it is also the only thing that brings them together.
Ultimately, The Runner Stumbles lacks enough life and momentum to actually illustrate how Rivard's small concession ends up making him stumble into a lie with the diocese and eventually leads to his fall from the Church. Similarly discursive plays like Doubt and the recent 100 Saints You Should Know allow their characters to use religion to work through their pain: The Runner Stumbles gets all tripped up trying to use religion alone.
Beckett Theatre @ Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Performances (through 11/23): Mon., Thurs., Fri. @ 7:30 | Sat. @ 2 & 8 | Sun. @ 3
Tickets (212-279-4200): $20.00
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