When playwright Christopher Morris was in Israel during the First Intifada, he heard about a volunteer group called ZAKA, which helps collect the remains of Jews killed in accidents or terrorist incidents. He interviewed several volunteers and their powerful stories stuck with him for years.
He wrote the first draft of a play about ZAKA in 2010 and then invited Jewish theatre director Daniel Brooks to join as dramaturge.
“He has played a part in offering me feedback and guiding my writing process,” says Morris. “He has a tremendous skill at developing new plays, in particular one-person plays.”
Morris’ The Runner, starring Gord Rand and directed by Brooks, opens at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto on Nov. 29 and runs until Dec. 9.
The 75-minute show is presented by Human Cargo Theatre, where Morris serves as artistic director.
What will immediately strike audiences as unique is the stage design. For the entire show, Rand is walking or running on a treadmill. “He has an unrelenting hunger as an actor, to get to the core of what the character is all about, and he’s fearless and undaunted by being on a treadmill during the show,” Morris says.
Rand’s theatre credits include the Shaw Festival’s The Cherry Orchard, Stratford Festival’s Oedipus Rex, Soulpepper Theatre’s Translations and many more. He’s also appeared on TV shows such as Orphan Black, Heartland and Wynnona Earp.
In The Runner, Rand plays Jacob, an Orthodox ZAKA volunteer who goes through various experiences in his life that have serious consequences, Morris says, but to divulge anything more would be spoiling the show.
The show’s script has evolved since that initial draft eight years ago. Morris recalls that, “At first, the show took a realistic tone and progress(ed) chronologically and that never felt right, almost forced. So when I started to make the story non-linear, that is when the play really opened up for me and unfolded itself.”
Morris notes that the solo show captures what it’s like to live in Israel, “where many challenges, including terrorism, are non-stop there, and looks at the perspective of what it’s like to be in that space.”
According to Morris, The Runner deals with a number of questions, such as, “How do you stay true to yourself and live in a moral way, when circumstances tell you it’d be easier not to?” and “Life is precious and short, so how do you live a good life while you have it?”
What Morris has learned from writing The Runner “is the importance of making the world around you a better place. That it’s impossible to predict what’s in the next world, so that it’s all about now, what we do to, and for, each other, to make the world a better place.”
The Runner runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 9 at Theatre Passe Muraille. For tickets, visit passemuraille.ca.