Compelling Presentation of Gut-Wrenching Story
Set in Israel, The Runner is a fascinating story about a practice not familiar to most of us. Not only does this play tell an unspeakable tale, it is presented by a brilliant actor who makes his character’s pain evident.
Jacob is an orthodox Jew living in Israel where he volunteers with an organization called ZAKA, an emergency response team in Israel that collects the remains of Jews killed by acts of terrorism, vehicle accidents, or other disasters. They also save lives until paramedics are on the scene to take the survivors to hospital. But their main task is to collect body parts, skin, blood and whatever human remains they can find, as it is important in the Jewish faith to be buried whole.
The play starts with Jacob in great distress, not knowing where he is and what has happened, but it is obvious he is on scene at an accident where something horrific has occurred. Then we back track to previous events where Jacob was present doing his work as a member of ZAKA. Over the course of an hour, we learn more about Jacob’s full time volunteer work and his personal life, and then we come back to the opening scene, more aware of what is happening.
Jacob goes to the scene where an Israeli soldier has been stabbed. An Arab girl is bleeding nearby. Everyone assumes she stabbed the soldier and then was shot in retaliation. The soldier is dead, so Jacob turns his attention to the Arab girl and saves her life. As a result, he is scorned by everyone, including family, who can’t understand why he would save a hated Arab (Palestinian) woman. Jacob responds that as a ZAKA member, he took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. He felt that she was also a human deserving of his attention, while his Israeli colleagues said she should have been left to die.
Playwright Christopher Morris heard about ZAKA and found their work fascinating. He asks “Who the hell does this kind of work? How do they know how to properly collect and identify every piece of skin and drop of blood? How are they able to emotionally handle this?” He travelled to Israel and interviewed ZAKA members, putting together this play based in truth.
Gord Rand is brilliant in this difficult role. The play is one hour with no intermission, and Rand is on the stage walking, running and talking the entire time. Watching him is exhausting. His stamina is remarkable. The only set piece in the theatre is a treadmill-like conveyor belt, about 10 or 15 feet long. Rand spends the entire show moving on the belt, running to an accident scene, falling down, walking. He is never still. Its speed varies, forcing him to run fast, or slowing him to a stumbling walk.
The stage area is in darkness, save for a spotlight on him as he moves along the conveyor belt. The light grows harsher during difficult times. Loud crashing noises and strobe lights accentuate Jacob’s feelings of loss and frustration. Credit for movement, sound and light goes to director Daniel Brooks, set designer Gillian Gallow and lighting designer Bonnie Beecher.
The Runner is really a story of the emotional undoing of Jacob. While most ZAKA members have other employment, Jacob does this full time, and it takes a terrible toll on his mental state. It’s an hour-long draining experience; an amazing piece of theatre that will stay with you and broaden your thoughts on prejudice and conflict.
The Runner continues on the McManus Stage, Grand Theatre, London until November 16. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Gord Rand as Jacob. Photo by Lyon Smith.
By Christopher Morris
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Performed by Gord Rand
A Human Cargo Theatre Production
McManus Stage, Grand Theatre, London
November 5 to 16, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson