The Runner, now playing at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre until March 29, is stark and emotionally gripping. From the beginning the audience is visually and aurally swept onto a journey composed of stretches of foggy darkness, bright patches and many ironies.
When the stage light first comes up its beam reveals a scruffy young man (Gord Rand) running on a treadmill, an obvious but brilliant symbol of his plight. He is jogging; trying to move forward but he can’t. Quickly the audience discovers that this fellow is an Orthodox, Israeli Jew named Jacob, who volunteers for ZAKA, an organization dedicated to gathering the remains of Israeli soldiers so that they may receive a Jewish burial. While striving forward and falling back, Jacob reveals that minutes ago he went through an encounter that has blasted him to foreign territory within his own domain.
He is a caring man, dedicated to honouring bodies and souls, and is also a son who dutifully supports his mother. However, on this day he is confronted by the possibility that doing good to your friends and turning your back on your enemies is much too simple a creed to live by.
Today as he strives to honour Israeli soldiers, who were attacked by a young Palestinian girl, he is stymied. He begins to question his own integrity, more flawed than his friends and co-workers might suspect. He has made a promise that may mark him a traitor. He is in pain. He is conflicted. In this moment he is not certain to whom to cry out for help.
Though to some degree The Runner approaches difficult questions too simplistically, it is a worthwhile theatrical journey. Rand’s performance is powerful and sensitive. Director Daniel Brooks has wrought a significant and provocative theatrical experience.
This is not the first time that The Runner has been presented to audiences in Toronto. The show premiered at the Theatre Passe Muraille in 2018. I’m glad it is back in town.