The Runner Stumbles
nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
May 6, 2012
The Runner Stumbles is at its essence a story of forbidden love encased in a murder mystery. Loosely based on real events (the details of which sound fascinating), a priest is accused of killing a nun in his parish and we follow him through a sequence of trial scenes, present-day jailhouse visits, and flashbacks. The idea is of course to piece the story together for us, bit-by-bit. And while I’ve been informed that Milan Stitt's drama appeared successfully on Broadway in 1976 (running for about six months), I’m not certain the play has aged very well. I think I know what happened in the end to tie the plot together, but a disjointed start to the second act felt more like a soap opera than a classic play (albeit with earnest acting), and it made for so jarring a segment that I struggled to pick up the crumbs of revelations that were were being laid.
One of my least favorite things to do is unnecessarily chop down Indie theatre. I’m a playwright and I know how hard it is to get things produced. So, congrats to everyone involved for earnest effort. But this production (even of a once-classic play) has enough abrupt and awkward slamming of fists on wooden set pieces, throwing down of books, and brusque entering and exiting of miffed characters in the first few scenes to last an entire show. Those kinds of moments are effective if they’re used once—maybe twice in an entire piece. But this play is wrought with confusing, violent outbursts culminating in that opening scene in Act 2 I mentioned where everything comes out, as it were—but upon reflection, I’m not certain I know exactly what that everything actually was. I will say that if this is what went on in the Catholic Church in 1911 Michigan, I’d want to be nowhere near the state or the Institution because no one here is having even the slightest bit of fun.
The sign for the show out front promises an exciting twist—which came—but came so suddenly and from so far afield (and was actually spoken so quickly) that it pulled me out of the world of the play and forced me to play catch-up; a feeling I was familiar with during the show. The play feels like it wants to slow down and speed up all at once. Christopher Patrick Mullen and Casandera M. J. Lollar in the leading roles are doing their best. Everyone is. Yay theatre! But unfortunately Stitt’s play doesn’t seem to have entirely held its shape over the years and two hours and forty-five minutes of confusing outbursts is tough to take.