note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark
Scenic Artist Jenna McFarland
Sound Designer Marc Plevinsky
Technical Director Jonathan Jay Dubois
Stage Manager Darcy Conroy
It was a mistake to see "Marathon" on the very night before THE Boston Marathon. Not only didn't I get a review written till now (over a week later), but I've seen three other excellent shows since then, and written about none of them. Luckily, in the past week every other reviewer here in Boston must have called the hour and a quarter experience of "Marathon" a contender for best play of the year. It is a compelling, subtly complicated, sublime play, and everyone connected with it should feel justly proud.
The play concerns two runners in training for the New York Marathon who intend a twenty-mile run to a railroad track, doing it at night to avoid traffic. In what may seem like a gimmick at the beginning, the pair "run in place" for nearly the entire performance, testing each other, complaining and confiding. They "bonded" when each revealed that they had both made it, an hour apart, with the very same girl at their high-school graduation party. They jab and jockey verbally, keep elapsed time down to the second, advise each other on form like coaches, and eventually reach that sublime "groove" where the stride widens imperceptibly, time disappears, and the runner can go on, effortlessly, forever.
And that's just the simple physical impact. The play begins and ends with a mysterious crash, and there are the merest hints thorughout that something different is taking place. One of the runners obsesses on the myth of Phidippides' --- the first man to run so far to announce the Greek victory over a Persian army that he died of the effort. He sees that willing acceptance of the consequences as a "guy thing". One has been ill, still feels "off", and is taunted as a quitter or an Alibi Ike. Each has annoying little habits. And when one or the other happens to be a step or so ahead setting the pace, there is a subtle grin of triumph if the other complains. The runners, Eric Lauritz and Adam Paltrowitz (Adam's the one wearing glasses), give what feels like a seamless, flawless performance.
And among all that, I even noticed Director Weylin Symes' beautiful blocking.
Yes, an hour and a quarter play about two jogging runners presents a variety of stage pictures. True, for long stretches the two are side-by-side down-stage, full-face to the audience, each pair of feet striking the stage in metronomic unity. But the runners turn, subtly and slowly to stage-left at points --- usually when one or the other forges ahead, though to accomplish this the other must drop Back imperceptibly. There are points when the feet get out of synch, more or less when the pair squabble. And, as in a real marathon, one runner falls decisively behind, back at the far upstage-edge of the big Tremont Theatre, as the other runs on, seemingly for all eternity.
And, after all that, let's talk text.
The original play was written in Italian by Edoardo Erba, and The Stoneham Theatre's original production was the standard translation, used while Israel Horovitz finished his own "adaptation" of the original. The actors prefer Horowitz' version, which finds deeper possibilities than the shallower, funnier original. So, if you saw the show in Stoneham, it would be worth it to try again at the Tremont. The lights, probably designed by Technical Director Jonathan Jay Dubois, are muted, almost misty areas picking out action that is focused entirely on the two men running in a bare, black-curtained box.
I have deliberately ignored here the subtle, shocking surprise that turns the entire play inside-out and links almost imperceptible hints dropped less like sign-posts than careful crumbs throughout the action. See it if you can!