Reprinted review: THE RUNNER

by Lynn on January 3, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

This production played at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2018. I bears reprinting because of the controversy regarding its recent cancellation at the Belfry Theatre, Victoria, BC as of Jan. 2/24. The play is important because of its HUMANITY, something we seem to have forgotten in these fraught times.

Review: THE RUNNER

by LYNN on DECEMBER 3, 2018[EDIT]

in THE PASSIONATE PLAYGOER

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Christopher Morris

Directed by Daniel Brooks

Set and costumes by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer and sound design by Alexander MacSween

Cast: Gord Rand

A beautiful, gripping production of a compelling story about a man who just wanted to do good.

The Story. Jacob is an orthodox Jew who is single, lives with his mother and is a volunteer paramedic with Z.A.K.A, a group that goes around Israel and internationally collecting the body parts, skin and blood of Jews involved in terrorist attacks. He has no other life/job but this one and he takes it very seriously. (Note traditionally Jews must be buried intact, hence the need to collect the body parts from a terrorist attack etc. for a proper burial.)

One day he comes upon an Israeli soldier lying dead in the road and near him is a young Arab woman who has been shot in the back. She is still alive and Jacob goes to her to try and save her life. He is reprimanded by the others in his group and by his superior for helping the Arab who they assume killed the soldier. Jacob can’t assume anything because he wasn’t there. All he saw was a woman in need of help and since he took an oath to “do no harm” he helped her. He has been taking criticism and enduring the bad treatment of his co-workers, his mother and his righteous brother. All of this leaves him conflicted about what he should have done and knowing he did right.

 The Production. Daniel Brooks directs this production with his usual flair creating vivid images, stark lighting (thank you Bonnie Beecher) and directs a performance of Gord Rand as Jacob that is full of generosity, heart, air-gulping life, confusion, determination and compassion. There is such a firm but gentle hand in the direction; the orchestration of when to run, walk, speed up and shade the dialogue.

Because Jacob must be ready at a moment’s notice to rush to an incident, accident, terrorist attack, Jacob is always rushing. To create this sense of constant movement Gord Rand as Jacob does the whole play on a narrow, long strip of the stage that juts out into the space in front of the audience. It is in fact a treadmill. Beams of light from Bonnie Beecher’s stark design pour down on him. Sometimes he runs but it’s not enough to stop him being sucked into the black of upstage. Very effective image, a voice coming from the dark void upstage.

Often he is running as the treadmill speeds up. He talks urgently of what he has discovered. He talks with speed, purpose and determination of giving the Arab woman CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation to keep her alive.

There are also moments when the treadmill slows and Jacob walks and ponders the things he has encountered and remembers. Moments in his life. He notes that his mother always has dinner ready for him but never knows if he will be home to eat it. She wants him to get married. She hasn’t twigged to the fact that that won’t happen.

There are moments when there is a loud bang sound; Jacob is on the ground and thinks he’s wet. He gets up confused about what has happened. He continues walking. His righteous brother has a job and is prosperous and has contempt for Jacob because Jacob does not have a job; he doesn’t pay taxes; he lives with their mother. In a blistering speech Jacob’s brother feels Jacob he is useless and should go back to London to live and get a job. His brother has disgust for his brother for saving the Arab girl and has contempt for all Arabs. Jacob asks his brother how he can live there under such circumstances and Jacob said his brother yelled: “BECAUSE IT’S MINE!” It’s a particularly chilling moment in a production full of them.

Gord Rand gives a towering performance as Jacob. Jacob is thoughtful, fastidious in a way, desperate to pass on good will to his fellow Jews and towards others, There is such detail, from trying to keep his yarmulke on his head, to his adjusting his glasses up on his nose with his finger,  Of course there is stamina, energy and a sense of exhaustion as Rand runs and walks for the whole hour of this important show. It’s not exhausting for the audience, interestingly enough. It’s the message that writer Christopher Morris wants us to hear and what we realize happens at the end that leaves us emotionally drained.

Jacob sees the negative attitudes around him. He knows in his heart he did right for saving the Arab girl. He is a mensch. And while we know he is kind he laments that that is a rare emotion with his fellow Jews? Volunteers? He does find kindness in the most unexpected place and while the situation there in Israel seems so hopeless that moment of kindness leads one to be optimistic.

Comment. I read somewhere that the basis of Judaism is that it is ‘life-affirming, man-revering.” That is embodied in every single thing that Jacob does in his life. He wants to save lives, no matter whose life it is: Arab, Jew, Palestinian. A life is a life. “Do no harm.”

Christopher Morris has written a compact, taut play that depicts in Jacob’s clear, pristine dialogue the history of the Jews coming to this rocky land with no oil or resources because it was promised to them. Through Jacob we glean the animosity of Jew against Jew and the thorny relationship with the Arabs.

Morris has created in Jacob a generous, open-hearted, gentle man who is searching to do good, to be scrupulous in that search. He is mindful of the explosive nature of his surroundings and tries to hold on to his humanity and find it in others. It’s a measured look at a situation that can be so lopsided. It’s an emotional exhausting,  eye-opening, gripping piece of theatre and I did what I usually do when I see something as moving as this about a troubling subject: I sobbed all the way to the car.

A Human Cargo Theatre Production with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: Nov. 10, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 9 2018.

Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission.

www.passemuraille.ca

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1 maja ardal January 3, 2024 at 2:13 pm

I don’t understand the reason for Belfry’s cancellation of the show. Was this a decision influenced by the board of directors? Where is the fear? Where is the courage? Is there offensive material? Who is offended? This seems to be a very problematic situation, as the play seems to be full of moral quandary and does not sound like it is weighed on one side of the present conflict over another.

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2 Eleanor O’Connor January 3, 2024 at 4:35 pm

I read the Victoria papers to understand this decision. I was appalled to see the intimidation inflicted on this theatre— The occupation of its lobby.
It is unfortunately yet another example of people making decisions without actually seeing the play or reading it. This play is not a depiction of one side of a conflict. I have seen it twice and it left me with questions about those who see the world in black and white.

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3 Roman January 5, 2024 at 2:50 pm

I saw it twice in Toronto, a couple of years apart. It was amazing. Whoever these protesters were, they certainly weren’t theatre fans.

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