Propelled by the magnificent performance of Gord Rand, the visionary direction of Daniel Brooks, and the profound script by Christopher Morris, The Runner is a spellbinding and disturbing theatre experience that is not to be missed.
Rand plays Jacob Cohen, a member of ZAKA, the Israeli organization that collects the body parts and blood of Jews who have been dismembered by bombings or mutilated in car accidents. These orthodox Jews believe that their co-religionists must be buried whole. ZAKA also gets calls from outside Israel, such as Jacob describing the excavation of a mass grave of Jews in the Ukraine. Apparently ZAKA subscribes to the Hippocratic Oath that a person must do no harm, which is what gets Jacob into trouble in the first place.
The crux of the play revolves around the fact that at an attack site, Jacob saved the life of an Arab girl believed to be the killer of an Israeli soldier. Jacob truly believes in the Hippocratic Oath that commands him to do good, but he is reviled for saving her – and so his troubles begin. Apparently Jacob’s mother and her two sons immigrated from England after the death of her husband. Jacob’s brother Ari, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank, believes that the softer, weaker Jacob should not even be living in Israel because he lacks the warrior spirit. It doesn’t help that Jacob has always been an outsider and a closet homosexual, which has always put him at odds with his community.
Rand’s powerful performance is extraordinary. First of all, he looks every inch the part, with his kipah on his head, tassels from his prayer shawl creeping out from under his yellow safety vest, and sporting the beard worn by most orthodox Jewish men. Every little detail enhances his characterization, particularly his expressive hand and arm gestures, whether always pushing his glasses up his nose, or his habit of putting both his hands on his head. His personality slides between anger and bewilderment, defiance and incredulity, but always with fervour and passion. Director Daniel Brooks also functioned as dramaturge and so he is intimately acquainted with Morris’ provocative script. Clearly every word Rand utters during the 80-minute show has been worked out in meticulous fashion with Brooks. Nothing in his delivery has been left to chance. Rand is simply mesmerizing, and it is hard to imagine any other actor playing the role.
I am presuming that Brooks came up with the idea for Gillian Gallow’s brilliant set. A motorized running track sits on a long, narrow platform that juts out into the audience, and Rand is always in motion. Only very occasionally does the track come to a stop. At Jacob’s most impassioned outbursts, the speed increases to a frightening degree. Sometimes the track runs backwards which carries Jacob into the shadows. So as well as saying his lines, Rand is always running which makes his tour-de-force performance even more harrowing. Bonnie Beecher’s atmospheric lighting and Alexander MacSween’s evocative score only gild the lily.
If one is an “Israel, right or wrong, but Israel” person, some aspects of Morris’ riveting script will cause offense. Nonetheless, the very question of loyalty to the state versus doing the right thing – the central theme that Morris is grappling with – must be addressed. I would venture to say that the nation of Israel struggles with this dilemma every day.
Human Cargo Theatre/Theatre Passe Muraille, The Runner by Christopher Morris, directed by Daniel Brooks, Nov. 25 to Dec. 9, 2018. Tickets available at 416-504-7529 or www.passemuraille.ca/wp/tickets.