Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The Runner Stumbles" reminds me why I love theater

This weekend and next weekend I am running lights for Regent's production of The Runner Stumbles, by Milan Stitt.  It's not a glamorous job.  I'm dressed in black, sitting in a dusty booth, hidden behind a giant light board, pressing a "go" button for two and a half hours.  Tech jobs are kind of a drag.  (but this is my last required one! Yay!) I actually chose running lights because I anticipated that this production would be good, and I wanted a crew position where I'd be able to watch the show (as opposed to running costumes or props, which I've done for the past three crew positions I've had.) Unfortunately, with the way the booth is situated, I can only watch the show if I run lights standing up.  Which I've done several times, because yes, the show is good.  Very, very good.

First of all, the play itself is pretty amazing.  It's about a priest and a nun...and yes, there've been jokes.  My favorite? A priest and a nun have dinner together.  Afterwards, the priest asks the nun if he can give her a kiss goodnight.  She thinks for  a moment, then says, "I suppose so.  As long as you don't get into the habit."

Buh-dum chick.

Anyway.  It's about a priest and a nun, and the tension that ensues as they wrestle with the love they have for God and the developing feelings between the two of them.  There's fire, violence, scandal, and in the end...murder.  And yet, there's hope.  Redemption. A sense that God is in our midst, only waiting for us to pivot towards Him so that He can receive us with open arms.  The play is well-written, funny, clever, and throbbing with pain and grief. 

Secondly, the director, one of my professors (who also directed The Elephant Man) is a meticulous, detail-oriented master of storytelling.  There is not a nuance of the script that's left unexplored.  Characters are drawn in precise detail, and the choices he's made at the end of each act with the lights, sound, staging, music, tell a clear and compelling story of despair and redemption, respectively. And the design work is delicious.  From the smallest detail of the crosses built into the furniture, to the sepia painting of  Christ on the cross subtly woven into the floorboards, to the ghostly draping of the material across the backdrop...yummy.

And then, there's the acting.  This is a demanding play.  The characters explore extreme heights and depths of emotion.  The actors are required to be intelligent, witty, impulse-driven, and extremely emotionally vulnerable.  And, for the most part, they succeed brilliantly.  There are many LOVELY performances, but if I had to single some out, I'd choose the performances of Father Rivard, Sister Rita and Mrs. Shandig.  The actor playing Rivard has the daunting task of moving through time...from the present time when he's on trial for the murder of Sister Rita and the past, where he's reliving his relationship with her from the moment of first meeting, through the crisis of faith, until the climactic night of the fire in the village when he's forced to make a life-changing decision. The actor handles all these changes with ease, charm, and grace.  Charm and grace are kind of trademarks of his, so that's not terrifically surprising.  However, he has also discovered within himself a complexity of emotion which I've never seen from him in any previous roles.  The actress playing Mrs. Shandig, the priest's Polish housekeeper, manages to bring many moments of much-needed humor into the story, but maintains a groundedness and total believability in her role which enables the unexpected revelation her character brings (no spoilers!) at the end to happen in a shockingly organic fashion.  This is the role that I would have loved to play, but she does it magnificently.  Finally, there's the first-year MFA playing Sister Rita.  This girl is one to watch.  Every moment she's onstage, she's alive and responsive.  Each gesture, each facial expression, each reaction and every word out of her mouth seem to spring to life right at that moment.  It's a beautiful, captivating performance and I can't wait to be in a show with her to get the chance to work off of her.

Now, is it a perfect show? No, of course not.  It's still a student performance.  There are occasionally misspoken lines, late cues, a moment of text which hasn't been fully explored.  This is to  be expected.  Not accepted, these things must continue to be worked on, but it is, as all live theater is, a  work in progress.  There are actors who make choices I don't agree with, things I would have directed differently.  Even lines in the script I would have written differently. 

But this show, this show is  lovely. It's a privilege to be a part of it, even in my small unglamorous way.


M.M. said...

It's a delight to read your description. I wish we could have seen it.

Sawdust said...

What a marvelous piece of writing! Love you.

CassandraMadeIt said...

So wonderful to read of your living your passion. You are most definitely in the right place at the right time of your life. & what beautiful writing of the post!

Melissa said...

Your turn.

SMNYC said...

And you were giving me crap about my blog...