Pulse-pounding drama Playwright’s tense one-person show aims to take viewers’ breath away
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2022 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When a bomb goes off, a knife is brandished or a gun is fired, blood is often shed and things always fall apart.
In the aftermath come the ambulances, the police, the crowds of civilians hoping desperately to find out what happened, who was hurt, or worse, who was killed.
In Israel and in the Palestinian territories, often the first to arrive at the scene is ZAKA, a group of volunteers who search the site for the dying and the dead.
By Christopher Morris
● Tom Hendry Warehouse
● Opens Thursday, runs to April 16
● Tickets at royalmtc.ca
The ZAKA volunteers — including Jewish, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and Muslim people — are also tasked with finding and collecting spilled blood and lost body parts for burial, a part of the tradition of Chesed Shel Emes — meaning “true loving kindness” — a type of good deed for which no thanks are expected, and for which none can be given.
Toronto playwright Christopher Morris first heard of ZAKA in the 1990s, and was struck by the concept, which stuck with him.
“I have a weak stomach,” Morris says. “So when I heard there was a group of people collecting the remains, I was fascinated, and thought it would make great content for a play.”
“I have a weak stomach… So when I heard there was a group of people collecting the remains, I was fascinated, and thought it would make great content for a play.” – Christopher Morris, playwright
But he needed to learn more, so he travelled to Jerusalem in 2008 to meet with ZAKA staff and volunteers, who shared with him stories of what they’d witnessed and experienced.
“These people all have day jobs,” says Morris. “But they all know if they get a call, they will leave immediately to respond. I had this image of a man dropping everything, and running as fast as he could.”
Morris returned to the politically fraught country several times, oscillating between both sides of the conflict to gain a fuller understanding of the broad spectrum of opinion and emotion.
A media fixer showed him Ramallah, and took him to homes around the West Bank, where he conversed with locals. He did the same in Orthodox Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem. From those trips and those conversations, he searched for a story.
“In theatre, you need a dilemma,” says Morris, who faced one of his own in identifying it. “A problem the person is facing. It took a while to realize what that problem would be.”
He eventually recognized the potential power of building the narrative around a single volunteer, Jacob, who lives and works in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem and is committed to doing the right thing — keeping to his oath to help those who need it.
Then, he needed a scenario to push the narrative forward: an attack, a response, a reason for Jacob to drop everything and run.
At the scene, Jacob finds a young Palestinian woman and a fatally wounded soldier. He opts to do first aid on the woman, who may have been responsible for the soldier’s wounds, a decision in line with his commitment to show no bias in his care.
Morally, it is the right decision. But in his community, his loyalties are questioned, and Jacob begins to question himself.
A one-person show — the 2019 winner of three prestigious Dora Mavor Moore awards for outstanding production, direction and new play — The Runner is a tense thriller, with Jacob’s frantic narration giving the audience a glimpse into his mind, where trauma, doubt, confusion, love and hatred swirl in a profoundly human mixture.
Adding stress and literally moving the narrative forward is the set, which features only a seven-metre-long treadmill, whose speed changes to match, underline or contradict the emotions Jacob feels as he wrestles with his own convictions. (In the Torah, Jacob is given the name Israel after he wrestles with God, so the titular runner’s name is fitting.)
Running is a very difficult thing to pull off convincingly in a fixed setting, but Morris says the modulating track — an idea of set and costume designer Gillian Gallow — is an effective tool both visually and narratively.
“Life feels like this,” he says. “The whole machine is an apparatus driving him toward something, forcing him to face it or take action. There’s a larger force at play in this universe that is unrelenting, and its function is to keep him moving.”
The treadmill is a tightrope that moves.
Morris’s play previously featured actor Gord Rand in the lead role, but for the Winnipeg performances, the playwright will take the stage. It’s the first time he’s gotten the opportunity, save a single performance before the pandemic derailed a slate of shows in 2020.
He’s excited to take on the challenge and to bring the play to Winnipeg. It has received rave reviews, and has been optioned for TV by Sienna Films — a company involved in the production of Canadian series such as Trickster, Cardinal and Sort Of — and Israel’s Spiro Films, whose output includes award-winning films such as Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot and Nir Bergman’s Here We Are.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.