In northern Michigan in 1911, a nun was found murdered. In the early 1970s, playwright Milan Stitt wrote a murder mystery/courtroom drama based on this story and used it to examine love, religion, and god. And in 2012, Retro Productions and The Bleecker Company moved their solidly entertaining Off-Off-Broadway production of Stitt's play, The Runner Stumbles, to the Off-Broadway Arclight Theatre for an open run.
Rivard is an amazing creation. While Sister Rita is a fascinating study of someone coming to believe that maybe there is a place for her in a difficult world, Rivard is anger and fear and love and myth and flesh and blood. The writing is so good, and Mullen is so present and real, so mercurial yet subtle, that even Rivard's worst behavior is comprehensible. And while Rivard's trial examines whether he is guilty of murder, the play examines whether he is guilty of hypocrisy, rigidity, and an inability to love.
The show and this production have their flaws. The first act doesn't quite gel, and some of the characters are thinly drawn. Director Peter Zinn does a good job overall, but the show's pacing needs tightening, particularly in the transitions between scenes. The fights are awkwardly staged. The show gets a bit melodramatic here and there. But the cast is strong (standouts include Heather E. Cunningham as Rivard's housekeeper, Ric Sechrest as the lawyer who defends Rivard, and Alisha Spielmann as the woman whose mother is dying), the story is compelling, and the show is well worth seeing.
(press ticket; second row on the aisle)