Friday, February 5, 2016





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Religion is onstage everywhere lately: New Jerusalem by David Ives at Lantern, Angels in America by Tony Kushner at the Wilma,  A Bright New Boise by Sam Hunter at Simpatico, Grace by Craig Wright in New York, and opening soon, the new musical, Stars of David, based on Abigail Pogrobin’s book at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

And all this just since the season started last month.

Add to this list Curio Theatre’s The Runner Stumbles by Milan Stitt, a drama about a catastrophic love affair between a priest (Steve Carpenter), and a nun (Isa St. Clair).  It is being performed in a cavernous old church--the wretched acoustics does the production no favors since every third word is unintelligible-- but it sure does add realistically to the atmosphere.

More realism: Based on historic events in remote northern Michigan in 1911 when a murdered nun’s body was discovered,  Stitt’s play reveals the dangers and terrible cost of the Roman Catholic church’s insistence on celibacy.  It is telling that our first glimpse of Father Rivard as he is brought into the courtroom in handcuffs, is not shocking; recent newsreels  have shown us plenty of shackled priests.

More realism: my companion for the evening had spent some time training for the priesthood.  He assured me that the situations and the dialogue were entirely accurate and believable, although the plot struck me as trite and, except for its surprising conclusion, entirely predictable.

The action alternates between the murder trial and the priest’s memories. At the trial there are all the stock characters, including a surly prison guard,  an inept hick lawyer, a repulsive prosecutor, and a self-important schoolgirl. In the scenes of the past, we see the central personalities develop: the priest is desperately lonely and, therefore, rigid as he struggles to preserve the Church’s laws, in contrast to lovely Sister Rita who needs conversation and flowers. The maid (Aetna Gallagher) is an almost constant chaperoning presence.

Lost in the welter of muffled words and the lack of lighting clues any production should give an audience,  there are two crucial facts: an epidemic of tuberculosis in the convent and an even more mystifying fire.

The actors are earnest and capable, but lack professional polish and the ability to project their voices in this unfriendly venue. The direction by Gay Carducci is often awkward as she attempts to cope with the unyielding space. This runner stumbles in a variety of ways.


Curio Theatre Company at the Calvary Center, 4740 Baltimore Ave. Through Nov.10. TTickets: $15-20Information:215-525-1350 or


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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