Roots Music

The musical Running Man, now showing at HERE, is a hymn to all the sons this country has stolen from her African American families. At 10, Tommy is a prodigy; at 20, he's a fugitive. A child who once sated his hunger for knowledge in books— as his mother's envoy into a realm of dreams deferred— turns into a smack addict. In this sister's tale, a young woman voyages back into her brother's past to discover how and where he was lost. Her excursion into the country of guilt and memory begins with a Virginia conjuring -woman named Seven, and draws in a host of bereft family-members. Together, they make certain that Tommy is found again, the roots of his anguish examined. Diedre Murray's haunting jazz opera is more of a tableau vivant than a play set to music. The story remains an intimation, but the score is a beautifully realized whole.

The second of a projected Music-Theatre Group trilogy created by Cornelius Eady and Murray, Running Man follows their 1997 collaboration, You Don't Miss the Water. While the earlier work was primarily a tone poem foregrounding Eady's autobiographical narrative about his dying father, the second delves into Murray's family history— making all the quandaries live and breathe.

Murray's music is vast and voluptuous, an ocean of gorgeous sorrow. It immerses the audience in its five-part conversation of instruments— cello, violin, guitar, accordion, and drums— finding its fruition, also, in the sublime voices of the ensemble cast (which features Darius De Haas, Roberta Gumbel, and Robert Jason Jackson). Eady's text, elliptical and suggestive, gives Running Man's voyage a poetic compass to chart its course. Diane Paulus's sharp direction gives it a destination. But it is Murray's jazz score that anchors the piece in the deep waters of tragedy.

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