Want to know a little more about this intriguing production? Read the following notes by director Michael Hill-Kirkland!
August 23, 1907 is the day she disappeared. To this day, the mention of this date to residents of Isadore, Michigan often elicits a terse, “We don’t talk about that,” or a silent, accusatory stare followed by a dismissive huff and precipitous departure. To quote reporter Mardi Link in her 2009 book, Isadore’s Secret,
“Today in Isadore they refer to the crime as ‘the tragedy’—if they refer to it at all…One elderly woman pointed a bony finger at me and rasped, ‘You should be afraid of the evil eye.’ A force still feared in Isador.” (xiv)
In the mid-1980s, as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I often heard Milan Stitt’s name touted as a prominent UM alum. Stitt was, after all, a proud native Michigander. Therefore, it should surprise no one that he had grown up hearing hushed whispers about the popular nun whose bones had been found under the woodpile at Holy Rosary Church, in Isadore. Isadore was (and remains) a small, isolated, primarily Roman Catholic, Polish-immigrant community. Located on a peninsula, surrounded by woods and swamp, on the north-western shore of the state. In “the tragedy,” the young playwright recognized all the criteria necessary for a fabulous pot-boiler; murder, intrigue, forbidden romance, and high drama culminating in a courtroom trial. He took one part history, mixed it with two parts imagination, and the result was The Runner Stumbles.
In 1974 a mutual friend, Joe Mathewson, put the play into actor-director Austin Pendleton’s hands. According to Stitt’s obituary in the March 12, 2009 edition of Playbill.com,
“Pendleton took the play to Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the then-young Off-Broadway company Manhattan Theatre Club, who liked it. Mr. Stitt, who once contemplated becoming a priest, sweated over several new drafts and the play opened in December 1974. Reviews were encouraging and the run proved popular with audiences. Two audience members, Del and Margo Tenny, were in the middle of starting their own theatre company in Stamford, CT, and they decided to put The Runner Stumbles in their first season. The production was a huge hit for the Hartman Theatre, as it was called, and a producer named Wayne Adams decided to take a chance and bring it to Broadway. It opened at the Little Theatre (now the Helen Hayes) on May 18, 1976…the play ran for six months.”
|Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland|
So join us as we travel to April, 1911. It is four and half years since Father Brian Rivard walked away from his responsibilities as parish priest of Holy Rosary Church in Solon, Michigan, and into the ether. The scene is a small, rural courtroom and its adjacent cell. For you see, Brian Rivard has returned to Solon—where he is to stand trial for the murder of Sister Rita!