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picture - The Runner StumblesTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 13, 2007


The Runner Stumbles

now playing Off Off Broadway at the Beckett Theater

through November 24


Since TACT(The Actors Company Theatre)’s production of Edward Bond’s “The Sea” was one of the highlights of last season – a beautifully calibrated demonstration of what is possible in the theater when dedicated and serious artists collaborate on a project with love – I entered the Beckett Theatre to see their revival of Milan Stitt’s “The Runner Stumbles” with the highest of expectations, which turned out, of course, to be the worst mistake I’ve made thus far this season. Lesson re-learned: There are never any guarantees, especially in the theater. With “The Runner Stumbles,” TACT stumbles.


Stitt’s play, based on a true story, is about Father Rivard (Mark L. Montgomery), a priest facing trial for the murder of a young nun, Sister Rita (Ashley West), who came to live with the priest and his rigidly loyal servant Mrs. Shandig (Cynthia Darlow) and with whom Father Rivard may or may not have been in love. The premise is clearly provocative, the possibility of a relationship between priest and nun titillating, the tension and suspense arising from whether or not the nun was actually murdered by the priest –  and the question of why the murder might have taken place –  could or, rather, should prove unbearably exciting. But all theatrical potential is drowned by endless dissertations on the harsh rigors of Catholic dogma and the even harsher rigors of the men and women who practice it and must, in turn, defend it. It should come as no surprise that the author also believes that those who obey dogma blindly without wrestling with its demands are as damned as those that do. The whole affair is resolved by a trick ending which, at least to one member of the audience, seemed fairly easy to see coming.


If there is one insurmountable problem in this production, it lies in the character of Father Rivard. Priests, superficially at least, are more often than not charming and persuasive – if they weren’t so seductive, why would so many of their victims be so vulnerable? – and yet, here – and it is hard to tell whether it is the choice of Montgomery or his director, Scott Alan Evans – Rivard is depicted an unrelievedly grim and angry young man whose torment borders on the masochistic. It is doubly masochistic for an audience to have to suffer along with him for over two hours. Even the notoriously humorless Stanley Kramer, in his film version, had the sense to cast the immensely likeable Dick Van Dyke in the part. And apparently that didn’t save “The Runner Stumbles,” either.   


harveyperr @



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