Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner **

In this stage adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's 1959 story about class in England, now at Atlantic Stage 2, playwright Roy Williams has moved the action to the present and changed the race of the protagonist to black to add an additional level of conflict. This transposition might have worked better if it had been more fully developed. Sheldon Best plays the title character Colin with more stamina than clarity of motivation. The flashbacks that punctuate the play, showing him in short scenes with his parents, best friend, girl and fellow residents of the juvenile facility seemed scatter-shot and did not have cumulative impact. There are several scenes between Colin and Stevens, the social worker who urges him to run in a race against a local private school. Granted that Stevens is supposed to be smarmy, in his portrayal by Todd Weeks he comes across as little more than a buffoon given to bombastic declamation. A general lack of nuance hurts the production. In the strong supporting cast, Zainab Jah, Joshua E. Nelson and Jasmine Cephas Jones stood out. The spare set by Lauren Helpern and projections by Pauline Lu and Paul Piekarz are effective, as are the costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II. Leah C. Gardiner directed.  I really wanted to like the play, but even at 80 minutes felt it dragged.

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