Play on a tread­mill raises ur­gent ques­tions

Pow­er­ful di­rec­tion and de­sign choices, plus well- ad­vised brevity make strong im­pact

StarMetro Toronto - - DAILY LIFE - Karen Fricker

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

mem­ory.

GRA­HAM ISADOR

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.

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