BWW Review: THE RUNNER is a Haunting Look Into Human Goodness

BWW Review: THE RUNNER is a Haunting Look Into Human Goodness

Written by Christopher Morris following years of research in Israel, directed by Daniel Brooks, and produced by Human Cargo with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille, THE RUNNER is an intimate look into the life of Jakob (Gord Rand), a member of the Jewish crisis-response team ZAKA. As a first responder to terrorist attacks and accidents, Jakob's duty is to collect The Remains of Jewish victims for a proper burial, and to adhere to the Hippocratic oath - that is, to do no harm and help the person most in need. His ideals and the ideals of his community are questioned constantly due to his need to know if his choices are valid.

The show opens on Jakob, alone in the dark with only a spotlight to illuminate him. The darkness around him is suffocating, but the only issues he has with breathing are caused by the high speed of the treadmill-platform he stands on. Throughout the 80-minute show, Jakob staggers, crawls, and runs his way through a number of life-defining events, from the instigating incident where he saved the life of a Palestinian woman who was thought to have stabbed an Israeli soldier, through to the fields of Ukraine and the dry heat of Tel Aviv. Jakob is shown at his most vulnerable as he's questioned by a series of spotlights placed throughout the space (lighting by Bonnie Beecher). In fact, the lack of other characters in the show is unnoticeable, because the lights take on a personality of their own - they either highlight Jakob's attempts to do good with a warm glow, or coldly question his motives with quick pangs and bursts.

Conducting and carrying a one-person show presents a unique challenge, but in THE RUNNER Rand fulfills the needs of the story with no issue whatsoever. While the show doesn't follow a straight timeline, it looks into pivotal moments in Jakob's life in an easy-to-follow manner. Rand's portrayal is as honest as it is gripping, and his ability to voice other characters - Jakob's demanding mother, the straightforward head of ZAKA, and his callous brother come to mind - is only one aspect of his performance. Rand can lay out a trail of crumbs regarding who Jakob is, and with each reveal there's a combined sense of surprise and knowing - Jakob is who he is, and Rand's understanding of the character plays wonderfully into his delivery. The constant use of his hands to talk, in conjunction with his emoting, lead to an altogether beautiful depiction of a man who simply wants to do good in an environment where good rarely exists and is constantly questioned.

The show's title takes on a literal form in its staging - while Jakob runs to accidents as a member of ZAKA, the decision to place him on a long treadmill (sets by Gillian Gallow) spanning at least 10 feet gives the show the simple setting it needs to allow Morris's script to shine through. Rand makes full use of the treadmill, and quite possibly the tensest moments are those where the ground beneath him speeds up, loudly humming and whirring through the silent space, as Jakob forces himself into a sprint, all while yelling his lines to be heard over the machine. In these moments, tension in the house climbs. All of this culminates in a booming explosion complete with strobe lights and white noise (compositions and sound design by Alexander MacSween), which had me locked up and jumping in my seat each time one went off.

Every aspect of this show is kept simple to give Rand the space he needs and uses so well to tell Jakob's story, which can be considered a triumph on Morris's and Brooks's part in bringing it to light. In Jakob, the question of what is right and what is wrong is explored constantly, with all black, white, and grey areas touched on but never resolved. It's suggested that Jakob is right - and he very well might be, although he is the narrator and has subconsciously implemented his bias at every angle. Regardless, it's comforting to think that even in the constant crisis our world seems to be in, there will always be someone like Jakob who will stand for their beliefs and hold firm to the idea that there is good in everyone. It's never his place to judge, and while he might be facing judgement for his choices there is an indisputable sense of righteousness behind all his actions.

THE RUNNER runs through December 9 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, ON.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit

Photo credit: Graham Isador

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