Milan Stitt Brendan Gill - Essay

Brendan Gill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Runner Stumbles"] is a new, serious, well-made, and continuously interesting American play, all the more worthy of our attention because it comes at a time when most of what is new on Broadway is not serious, most of what is serious is not well made, most of what is well made is not interesting, and most of what is interesting is not American. Let us therefore praise the author, Milan Stitt, for providing us with what amounts to an event as well as a play; I know nothing about him except that he appears to be named after a city, but if he is fairly young—anything under forty passes for young with me—then I predict that he has many more plays to give us. "The Runner Stumbles" has a pleasing richness of emotion behind the calculatedly spare nature of its language, and that is almost always a promising sign, especially at the beginning of a writer's career, as the opposite situation—a richness of language with little emotion behind it—hints at a talent that will burn itself out early….

Mr. Stitt has taken astute advantage of our assumption that we know something about the harshness of the religious life as practiced in that far-off time and place: when Father Rivard, a stern young intellectual, and pretty, passionate Sister Rita meet and fall in love, we perceive that something horrible is bound to befall them in consequence. Today, when a priest and a nun fall in love they marry and go off to Bermuda on a tennis-playing honeymoon. No doubt Mr. Stitt could have made a comic trifle out of this contemporary commonplace; instead, looking back, he has written a tragedy in the form of a courtroom melodrama, and guilt, punishment, despair, and death are all grimly present at the final cintain of "The Runner Stumbles."

Brendan Gill, "Up in Michigan," in The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LII, No. 15, May 31, 1976, p. 51.