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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

"There's no such thing as a perfect marriage."— Stephen

"What goes wrong, I wonder? I used to think people cried at weddings because they were so happy, but now I think they cry because they know. They know that everything seems perfect today but won't be tomorrow and that the couple have fooled themselves and are just about to find out the truth."—Emily
Jay Stratton (Stephen) and Melissa Hurst (Emily)
(Photo credit: Rick Teller)
Arlene Hutton's Running, now at the Chester Theater takes place the evening before a recent NYC Marathon. The setting is the living room of a spacious upper West Side apartments (what New Yorkers call a "classic six" which means living and dining room, kitchen with pantry, 3 bedrooms and as many bathrooms). The situation: Stephanie, the apartment's owner is in London on business to allow her husband Stephen to have plenty of rest and quiet to prepare for his first Marathon at age 50.

While Hutton's play is aptly named, the literal meaning of that title is only part of what this two-hander is about. We never meet Stephanie. Instead the second character is Emily (Melissa Hurst), one of Stephanie's many roommates back in the 1970s . Emily now lives in London and has been away from New York long enough to think of apartments as flats and not be attuned to what a big event New York's Marathon is. So she's booked a spur of the moment flight to New York, not realizing that the big race would make it impossible to secure a hotel room. Her call to the absent Stephanie leaves Stephen as her host, the last thing he needs on this night before the big race, especially since it turns out that Emily needs more than just a bed.

It's what happens once Stephen settles Emily on the living room couch (the spare bedrooms are now his and her offices) that' this play is really about. Not only does a good night's sleep become progressively less likely as we listen to the chit-chat in between their efforts to fall and stay asleep, the title's multiple meanings becme clear. Emily is obviously running away from something, — and, Stephen is running an emotional as well as physical race.

Hutton writes quiet, realistic plays that don't have the edgy qualities associated with the annual New York International Fringe Festival. Yet Last Train to Nibroc the first installment of her best and most produced work, The Nibroc Trilogy (Chester devoted a whole season to it) had its initial outing at the Fringe, and so did Running. (Her latest, Vacuum is being presented at this year's Fringe where Curtainup's William Coyle will review it).

Though again a straightforward, character driven play, Running is a slicker story though it again affords the actors playing those characters to make the most of the authentic, humor spiced dialogue. While written for the actors who played Stephen and Emily at the Fringe, Stratton and Hurst give appealing and convincing performances. The play has some interesting things to say about the stresses and realities of the changes that are part of growing out of one's hopeful young adult years — especially in the light of the social and economic changes that have torpedoed so many lives. However, it suffers from lapses in believability and a lack of action to keep the play from falling into the too talky trap, particularly around its midpoint.

Running is essentially a sketch built up sufficiently for two strangers to get to know each other over the course of a single night during which their intermittent small talk takes a more intimate and revealing tone. While the playwright segues gracefully from the humorous aspects of the basic situation to the melancholy that takes over when she touches on the darker themes of the losses of middle-age, failed dreams and loneliness.

The script's failure to propel Emily and Stephen's restless night with more action is kept to a minimum by Ron Bashford's direction. It would take a bigger stage than that at the Chester Theater's Town Hall home, to recreate the rather grand spaciousness of those "classic six" apartments, but David Towlun's nicely detailed single set evokes the real thing with its 3 doorways and tall upstage windows.

Given Hutton's knack for dialogue and characterization, the timeliness of the setting, Running is sure to have many other productions. Who knows, maybe she will find a way to run with her initial idea to explore the themes touched on here further and end up giving us another trilogy.

Running byArlene Hutton
Directed by: Ron Bashford
Cast: Stephen Jay Stratton (Stephen), Melissa Hurst (Emily)
Set Design: David Towlun
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle Costume Design: Heather Crocker Aulenback
Sound Design: Tom Shread
Stage Manager: Rhonda Picou
Running Time: 80 minutes without an intrmission
Chester Theater in Chester, 15 Middlefield Road Chester, MA 01011(413) 354-7771
August 1-12. Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 2nd
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