Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner, the short story published in 1959 by Alan Stilltoe, was the author’s commentary on the limitations of social class. This adaptation by Roy Williams at the Atlantic Stage 2 takes us to contemporary England and deals with race and how blacks and immigrants are viewed by the upper classes. It saddened me that this play still feels current although it was written so long ago.
Colin, played by Sheldon Best in a fantastic performance, is a disaffected teen. From a working class family, he feels that there is little hope of achieving any more success than his working class parents. Frustrated and bored, he and a friend rob a store which lands him in a prison for juveniles.
Colin is a long distance runner. Running gives him the freedom and independence that he craves. It allows him to be on equal footing with all men. A prison social worker, Stevens, a liberal do-gooder, tells Colin that running can be his way out of prison – the concrete place in which he is living and the imprisonment of his social class. He encourages him to compete in a race against teens from predominantly white prep schools.
For Colin, competing in this race is a no-brainer. He knows he can beat anybody. Yet he feels manipulated by Stevens. He is torn between using this chance of a lifetime to break out of the box that society has created for him and the fear of the unknown that awaits him if he wins.
Mr. Best’s performance is physically demanding and one that should not be missed. He literally runs for most of the 80 minutes of this play while delivering his emotionally charged lines. I left the theater exhausted. I was captivated by his performance, but distressed with the realization that after so much time, so little has changed.
Tickets are $45, less if you become a member of the Atlantic Stage 2. I haven’t seen discounts offered, but the play is worth the price. It runs through 2/9/14