A play by Toronto’s Human Cargo explores the Arab-Israeli conflict from a unique perspective
The Runner, produced by Human Cargo, dives into the moral and psychological weight of working for Z.A.K.A., a humanitarian group in Jerusalem in charge of gathering body parts—including those of perpetrators of violent acts—to be returned to families after disastrous events. Currently on at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, the work offers a ground-level view of the difficulty of seeing every person as human in a place where some are considered lesser than.
We meet Jacob (Gord Rand), a Z.A.K.A. member, having just saved the life of a Palestinian girl being blamed for the murder of an Israeli soldier. He was simply following his ethics, and Z.A.K.A.’s Hippocratic Oath, but soon finds himself at odds with his Jewish community’s fervent belief that ‘the Arab girl’ is obviously to blame.
Playwright Christopher Morris structures the play out of interrelated stories in Jacob’s stream of consciousness. His escapade at a sex club is an especially visceral moment for his defense of love in any situation. His trip to Ukraine is perhaps the high-water mark of the play’s wide use of poetic imagery. When Jacob rescues the Palestinian girl, it is almost funny, because he cannot fathom why people do not see that it was the right thing to do. It is through drastic contrasts in tone and volume that Morris recreates the madness of realizing that humans, for all our reason, can live by stories with no basis in reality.
Rand, the only actor in the show, interprets this madness by existing in a tension in Jacob’s life—between growing up surrounded by hatred for Arabs and Palestinians, and knowing deep down that every person has the same right to see life through. Jacob can reason away his guilt at having saved the girl, but this doesn’t spare him from having to come to terms with his community’s hive mind. His endearment stems from being aware that he is a product of his upbringing; that he was nurtured with biases that have been there so long they are indistinguishable from nature.
Rand puts us at the centre of the bind Jacob finds himself in, how he is being asked to choose between a job, friends, and family, or the kind of universal love for all that will keep humans on the planet indefinitely. His frustration at the absurdity of not being able to have both is the epitome of the activist attitude.
Morris accentuates Jacob’s gritty, philosophical monologues with graphic imagery that is hard to shake from the head. From drinking blood, to mass graves, to masses of bodies writhing in pleasure, there is plenty here for the senses to savour. Add to it Gillian Gallow’s set, a large conveyor with a mind of its own—on which Rand performs the entire show—and we have a sheen of cold indifference that surrounds the carnage we hear of, an overarching sense that none of us are ultimately in control of our fates. Jacob’s struggle to inner peace being to decide that he does not need this control to carry on.
My guest, Pinky, thought Jacob’s scatterbrained approach to storytelling made him somewhat of an unreliable narrator. She applauded the well-rounded construction of his character, and how the plot is cut up to study it, as accessible routes into a conflict people are generally too scared or uninformed to broach.
If you are interested in theatre that seeks to disassemble fear, violence, and ignorance before serving as a balm to their effects, The Runner might be just the thing.
- The Runner is playing November 25-December 9, 2018 at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace(16 Ryerson Ave).
- Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm.
- Sunday performances are Pay-What-You-Can at the door.
- Ticket prices range from $17-$38 and are available online, or in person at the box office.
Photo of Gord Rand by Graham Isador.