Play on a treadmill raises urgent questions
Powerful direction and design choices, plus well- advised brevity make strong impact
tionally takes place in today’s Israel. It actually takes place on a long, thin treadmill on which the sole actor (Gord Rand) runs, walks and falls down. As visual metaphors go, it’s simple and powerful (and from a design and technical standpoint, pretty darn impressive).
Christopher Morris wrote the play for his own Human Cargo theatre company (it’s produced here with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille) about the Israeli volunteer force ZAKA — the name is the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification. ZAKA volunteers are Orthodox Jews who collect the body parts of people blown up in terror attacks, accidents and disasters because, as Rand’s character Jacob explains, “Jews need to be buried whole.”
As Morris explains in the program, he’s been fascinated by ZAKA since he heard about it in high school more than 25 years ago and has visited Israel/ Palestine four times as research for the play, while otherwise having no ties to the region.
The play comes at the Israel/palestine conflict indirectly, through Jacob’s particular imagined experience. In my reading, the treadmill ( designed by Gillian Gallow, as is the well-observed costume) stands in for the entrenched nature of that conflict: it’s going to keep rolling on, even when this one person’s gone. But how do you navigate that environment when you believe — as Jacob does — that every person deserves help, regardless of their identity and affiliations?
The writing starts unsubtly, with Jacob wondering over and over, “Why can’t I remember?” and a situation is established whereby he has created an improbable pact with an “Arab girl.” As the play goes on, Morris, via Jacob, probes the seeming objectification in that phrase and how contentious words and names can be: should he call her Palestinian or Arab? Can such markers ever capture or sum up a person?
The mystery of the play is what’s happened to Jacob that has him in wet clothes and struggling with his
Gord Rand is the sole actor starring in The Runner at Theatre Passe Muraille. The play takes place on a long, thin treadmill on which Rand runs, walks and falls down.