'The Runner Stumbles'
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Through Nov. 11.
Where: St. John's Church, 27th and St. Paul streets.
Milan Stitt's "The Runner Stumbles" is a mystery told on several levels. Most obviously, it's a murder mystery, but it's also an examination of the mysteries of faith.
There's less mystery about what this debut production augurs for the Everyman Theatre. Judging from the high caliber of most of the acting and Vincent Lancisi's restrained, thoughtful direction, this new company is off to a promising start.
Based on an actual case, the script focuses on a priest accused of murdering a nun in rural Michigan in 1911. But the play -- alternating fluidly between flashbacks and scenes in the courtroom or prison -- is no mere re-enactment. It is a theological thriller, an American passion play. The real drama concerns the tenuousness of faith and relationships, a theme reinforced by Everyman's physical production, set on a steeply raked stage in fire-ravaged St. John's Church.
The priest, Father Rivard, worships a vengeful God. The nun, Sister Rita, worships a God of love. Carol Monda's Sister Rita is so beatific, she virtually glows. No wonder Rivard questions his beliefs.
Kyle Prue's Rivard is more of a puzzle. From his goatee to his ramrod bearing, he seems more Mephistophelean than priestly. This may suit Rivard's harsh outlook, but Mr. Prue overdoes it.
Among the other cast members, J. Martin McDonough Jr. imbues Rivard's easy-going attorney with Darrow-esque wisdom. And, though Celeste Lawson does her best as Rivard's housekeeper, a devout convert, she projects too much intelligence for this simple soul.
Everyman's debut was launched by an anonymous $10,000 donation. Judging from the stark set, the money went primarily into artists' salaries, not stagecraft. It was money well spent.