Entertainment :: Theatre|
The Runner Stumbles by Christopher Soden
EDGE ContributorSaturday Apr 19, 2008
There are several ways to consider Milan Stitt’s The Runner Stumbles.
Vatican I versus Vatican II. The Singing Nun wrestles with Mel Gibson.
Old Testament God of Wrath versus New Testament God of Love. The
premise is fairly straightforward. During a trial in which Father
Rivard stands accused of murdering Sister Rita, it comes to light that
the two were in love. This is not difficult to understand. Though
Rivard and Rita find themselves in the throes of ongoing and
increasingly heated debate, often the combustion behind animosity is
very similar to the friction that creates passion and romance. In
addition, Sister Rita is everything that Father Rivard is not.
Spiritually generous, emotionally available, non-judgmental,
demonstrative, enthusiastic, light. Who could help falling in love with
As I have already suggested, Father Rivard and Sister Rita
are reasonably well developed characters that also represent opposing
views of God, Love, and what it means to be a devout and effective
Christian and Roman Catholic. I’m no expert on liturgy but it doesn’t
seem as if Rita’s worldviews fly in the face of Catholic doctrine or
amount to heresy. And Father Rivard isn’t Draconian, not really. You
can see why, dealing with the trauma and tragedies he faced as a child
he would turn out the way he has. Like the rest of us, Rivard and Rita
have hidden influences shaping their lives. The Monsignor is always
poised to catch Rivard making some mistake and Sister Rita longs more
than anything to love and be loved.
It is difficult to explain
my dissatisfaction with "The Runner Stumbles," but I can tell you it
has nothing to do with Rover Dramawerks’ production which (not
surprisingly) is skillful, compelling, absorbing and buoyed by
impressive performances. Corey Whaley (Father Rivard) is tortured,
earnest, melancholy and utterly human. Julie Osborne (Sister Rita)
embodies the sweetness and nurturing demeanor of a "Bride of Christ."
Gary Anderson (Toby Felker) as Rivard’s attorney has just the right
mixture of skepticism and sympathy.
You needn’t be a scholar
of theology or religion to understand that no one single religion has
all the answers or provides an unwavering pathway to Truth. For all the
careful balance and structure of "The Runner Stumbles" and its
equivocal treatment of anti-Catholicism I couldn’t make out Milan
Stitt’s position on the subject. Now that’s not necessarily a bad
thing. But when you consider Christopher Durang’s "The Marriage of
Bette and Boo" or Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America" and their
attitudes towards organized religion, "The Runner Stumbles" feels
Sister Rita enters a small, isolated Roman Catholic
Diocese where Father Rivard and his housekeeper, Mrs. Shandig, behave
as if they’re living out a sentence. When Sister doggedly tries to
inject a note of sanity into this abyss she winds up getting executed
for it. Despite Father Rivard’s complexity and struggle the play seems
to depict him (or the Catholic Church) as the culprit. Even though he’s
exonerated, Stitt still seems to think that Rivard is some kind of
villain. For all it’s attempts to seem like an objective search for
truth "The Runner Stumbles" feels like a fixed race.
Rover Dramawerks Presents : The Runner stumbles by Milan Stitt. Cox Building Playhouse, Plano, Texas. April 3-26,2008.
Soden received his MFA in Poetry from Vermont College in 2005. He is a
teacher, lecturer, actor, performer and playwright. In addition he
writes film, theatre and literary critique. In his spare time he likes
to read, cook, dine, do crossword puzzles, chill and nap.