The Runner

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

The Runner: A Story that Moves

The Runner is a production that takes the audience on an emotional journey, despite literally running in place for its entire duration. And while it ultimately gets to a satisfying finish, its main gimmick — the entire production is presented on a tread mill — does serve to slightly trip it up along the way.

The Runner tells the story of Jacob, a volunteer with ZAKA, an organization founded to support first responders in providing aid during emergencies, and ensuring all human remains are collected in order to ensure Jewish burial laws are able to be respected.

Gord Rand plays Jacob in this one-man production. His performance is engaging and engrossing, taking the audience on a journey with him on a journey of exploration of faith, culture, morality, sexuality, and philosophy — all within a one-hour time frame.
The story begins with Jacob recounting a recent experience wherein he saved the life of an Arab girl, who locals believe may have killed an Israeli soldier. He is judged and questioned for saving an Arab, through Jacob firmly adheres to the Hippocratic Oath he has taken.

Jacob speaks to an unknown voice, represented only by light and sound. As he recounts his story, trying to piece together moments that he has lost, he is forced to walk faster as the treadmill increases its speed. As the story reaches its crescendo, Jacob is forced into a full run before a crash of light and sound knocks him to the ground.

And then we restart. A new segment of Jacob’s life is revealed to us and the story progresses in a similar cadence — like a song’s verse/chorus/bridge structure, so too is Jacob’s story told in a similar progression.

Every aspect of Jacob’s life is scrutinized and judged. Whether he is Jewish enough in the eyes of others; his relationship with his mother; finally exploring his sexuality only to be saddled with perceived judgment and subsequent guilt; and, ultimately, whether a good life can truly be lived within such rigid confines and expectations of society and religion, or whether goodness lies at the root of man, independent of such factors.

The story is fascinating, albeit a bit predictable. The big reveal at the end is evident almost from the beginning. But knowing the destination doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. And the technological gimmick — the treadmill that serves as the foundation upon which this entire play is literally presented — works well overall. If anything, it may be overused.

Looking at the cadence of the story’s progression, Jacob’s narrative builds. There is really no reason for him to be walking throughout — especially when the noise created by the treadmill serves to distract from Jacob’s narrative at times. The story is so compelling and some of the writing is so simple-yet-eloquent — descriptions of the girl’s hands relaxing, for example, would be better served to have room to breathe without the grinding of gears accompanying them. Then, as the story progresses and builds, the walk-to-run cadence would be more impactful.

The Runner offers a safe-but-intriguing look at the Arab-Jewish conflict through the eyes of someone dealing with its fallout on the front lines. It takes a superficial look at a challenging topic — necessitated by the short run time. But while there may be some stumbles here and there en route to its finish, the overall journey that The Runner provides is one well worth experiencing.