Philly: Run, Mourner, Run at Flashpoint Theatre Company

by Debra Miller

Run, Mourner, Run – Performances run through November 20, at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

I just attended the opening of a stunning play at Flashpoint Theatre Company on Friday night: the premier of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Run, Mourner, Run, adapted from Randall Kenan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, and directed by Matt Pfeiffer (a five-time Barrymore Award nominee and recipient of the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist in 2008).

Set in rural North Carolina, the story revolves around homophobia, racism, poverty, and greed, but offers no easy resolution, no happy ending.

The one-hour production is very stylized; its eight-person ensemble cast acts, sometimes sings, and sometimes its characters speak the narration, verbalize descriptions, and deliver their own stage direction. The unique writing is pure poetry, effectively referencing African-American storytelling, southern Gospel, and Greek tragedy, and giving insight into the protagonists’ “internal landscape” (a fundamental concern for Kenan).

Both McCraney (b. 1980) and Kenan (b. 1963) have focused their writing on what it means to be gay, and black, in the South, where their characters’ race and sexuality are at odds with the predominant Christian Evangelical beliefs, but whose lives are so deeply rooted in the community that they remain there, albeit stuck in heartbreaking hopelessness. Flashpoint’s production is sensitive to the plights of these people—good men who make bad decisions, not out of malice, but out of desperation.

Achingly subtle performances by Keith Conallen and Gerard Joseph as the tragic lovers (Dean Williams and Raymond Brown), Aimé Kelly as his sincerely decent wife (Gloria Brown), and Brian McCann as the chillingly hateful instigator (Percy Terrell) left the opening night audience, composed largely of theater professionals and critics, moved to tears and virtually speechless.

Lead actor Conallen explained the appeal that this production, and his character, held for him: “In terms of Run, Mourner, Run as a gay-themed play, I’d have to say that it isn’t really gay-themed, but rather populated by a number of gay characters, two of which use the sexual orientation to progress their own selfish agendas. The process of choosing to betray this man, Raymond Brown, and then falling in love with him, leading to the tragedy of Ray and Dean’s downfall, was a wonderful storyline to explore. I’m a big fan of emotional story arches and raw emotion. Being allowed to tap into those feelings of desperation, lust, love, and selfishness was a great exercise for me.”

As a director, Pfeiffer acknowledged that he was particularly interested in Tarell’s writing style: “I’ve worked on a lot of language-heavy plays–Shakespeare, Mamet, McPherson–but this was a unique way of taking such vivid poetry and using it both as action and narration. I also love simple stories about outsiders, people living on the fringe of the American dream. I think we don’t often look to people like Dean Williams to explore many of the issues that his story raises.”

According to Pfeiffer: “I think great plays ask great questions–I think great questions cross divides. So I would hope that people interested in exploring the complexities of the human condition would be attracted to stories that challenge held beliefs and create new ways of seeing the world, regardless of sex, race, or creed.”

Run, Mourner, Run is a work that should resonate with everyone, and should be seen by everyone, with its important human subject matter, its haunting language and staging, and its brilliant cast and direction. This is as good as theater gets—socially relevant, emotionally complex, supremely provocative, and exquisitely artistic.

Performances run through November 20, at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. For information and tickets, call 215.665.9720, or see Either way: do not miss this!


3 Responses to “Philly: Run, Mourner, Run at Flashpoint Theatre Company”

  1. chris courtenay Says:

    Where can I purchase the script for Run, Mourner,Run? I can’t find it for sale anywhere. Congratulations on your production of this play. Great review.

    Chris Courtenay
    Charlottesville, Virginia

    • Deb Miller Says:

      Hi Chris,

      I just heard from the director Matt Pfeiffer that the script is not published, so Run, Mourner, Run is not available in that form. But you can read the short story in the book carried by B&N.

  2. Deb Miller Says:

    Check Barnes and Noble bookstore online; Run, Mourner, Run is included in The Penguin Book of Gay Short Fiction by David Leavitt (Editor), Mark Mitchell (Editor).

    I’ll also check with the Director of Flashpoint’s production to find out his source for the script.

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