BWW Reviews: THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER Jogs Steadily

January 22
1:56 AM 2014

When British author Allan Sillitoe's short story of a working class petty thief who mentally escapes from the bleakness of his future through the comfort of running was published in 1959, it was recognized as a product of his country's Angry Young Man period of literature and drama.

BWW Reviews:  THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER Jogs Steadily
Sheldon Best and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)

But while Sillitoe and his class-conscious contemporaries were all white men writing about their fellow white men, black British playwright Roy Williams has adapted The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner into a contemporary stage piece that re-imagines the central character to allow audiences to see the story as a reflection of current racial issues.

"Running has always been a part of my life, especially as I was always running away from the police," says 17-year-old Colin, as he vigorously jogs in place while addressing the audience at the play's opening.

BWW Reviews:  THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER Jogs Steadily
Joshua E. Nelson and Sheldon Best (Photo: Ahron Foster)

Lean and muscular actor Sheldon Best has a lot of these moments throughout the 80-minute play, where he narrates his character's actions and thoughts while keeping in motion. Fortunately, Best is a fine storyteller with a likeable presence, or those lengthy speeches would slog down the pace.

There isn't much story beyond Colin landing in a prison school and being encouraged to run as sport by a social worker named Stevens. As played by Todd Weeks, a white actor, Stevens' concern for Colin's rehabilitation comes off as sincere, but patronizing, particularly when he enters the young man in a race competing against boys from the borough's private schools. A victory for Colin would be a public relations victory for the facility and the young runner questions if he'd like his talents used in that manner.

More engaging, though, are scenes where Colin remembers events from before his incarceration, involving his troubled mother (Zainab Jah) and deceased father (Malik Yoba). There's a very cute flirtation scene between Colin and Jasmine Cephas Jones and Joshua E. Nelson is excellent as his best pal and worst influence.

Leah C. Gardiner's energetic production smoothes out some of the play's didactic text, but The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner might best be appreciated by teenage audiences, who, like Colin, face major decisions as they begin shaping their lives as adults.

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