Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through August 12, 2012
by Robbin M. Joyce
Some experts says runners need not run more 20 miles on their long training runs in the weeks leading up to a marathon. The theory behind that opinion is that given a properly-followed training regiment, a runner will find the inherent determination and endurance for the final 6.2 miles on the day of the race. It's a leap of faith, per se.
Much like a runner training for a marathon, Chester Theatre Company has taken a leap of faith in producing the New England premiere of "Running" by Arlene Hutton. The third of four shows in its 23rd season, "Uncommon Love Stories," director Ron Bashford has taken on a 90-minute, no intermission, glimpse into the neurotic world of wannabe runners and best-laid plans gone astray. Is this a love story? Perhaps.
Enter Emily and Stephen, respectively played by Melissa Hurst and Jay Stratton. Emily has fled England and her husband without a plan for accommodations and desperately puts out a plea for help to her former roommate. Stephen is home alone while his wife is away on business and comes to Emily's rescue. He's running in the New York City Marathon the next morning, but allows his very structured routine to be interrupted because it's what his wife would have done.
Stephen and Emily, initially very awkward with each other, warm up eventually and talk the night away. They discover they were roommates in that apartment at the same time briefly 30 years earlier and that discovery leads to further confessions and soul bearing.
Melissa Hurst gives a performance that's free-spirited and vulnerable. She easily embodies the pain of betrayal while peppering her remembrances with gleeful nostalgia. She's a delight to watch. Jay Stratton gives an equally strong performance, but seems less suited to the role. He appears to be much younger than the 50-something character he's playing. Yet, he elicits an empathetic longing for Stephen's youth and passion, both irreparably lost as time runs on.
The conversation flows quite naturally, at times feeling like an uphill slog and at other like a downhill sprint; but it's not compelling. Questions get raised but never answered. The actors in this "uncommon love story" have done their training work and it shows in their strong performances, but the script can't take them the final 6.2 miles.