Riveting, Award-Winning Production Comes to the Grand

Winner of the 2019 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, The Runner is an electrifying production out of Toronto’s Human Cargo Theatre, and is set for its run on the McManus Stage at the Grand Theatre this November. This bold and exciting new work is being praised by critics, with captivating material that “will make your heart rate soar and leave you breathless” (The Globe and Mail). 

The one-person play, featuring Canadian actor/producer Gord Rand, centres on the life of ZAKA volunteer, Jacob, as he recalls the moment in which he chose to come to the aid of an injured Palestinian girl instead of tending to a fatally injured Israeli soldier.

The Grand’s Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum notes that “it is thrilling that The Runner will be featured in the McManus, offering a stunning and extraordinary theatre experience unlike any other. Rand delivers this unforgettable performance, in its entirety while moving on a 24-foot treadmill.”

In 1991, Canadian playwright Christopher Morris was first made aware of the volunteer organization, ZAKA, while he was a high school student in Markham, Ontario. ZAKA, founded in 1989, is a non-governmental search, rescue, and recovery organization. Its volunteers are on call 24/7, and work with first-responders attending terrorist attacks, disasters, and accidents, “their task in each instance is to assist any living victims by providing first aid, and to ensure that all human remains are collected and identified in order to adhere to Jewish burial laws” (zaka.us). Upon learning the role of ZAKA members, some of Morris’ first thoughts included, “who the hell does this kind of work?” and “how are they able to emotionally handle this?”

In 2010, after reflecting on ZAKA volunteers and realizing there was a creative basis for an incredible piece of theatre, Morris made the first of four research trips to Israel/West Bank. There, he spoke with many ZAKA members and also visited with a refugee family whose 17-year-old daughter perpetrated a terror attack in Jerusalem. He listened to the stories from a wide range of those living in Israel/West Bank to gain more insight and a better understanding of what life was like in these regions. The divisive and controversial content and setting of The Runner led Morris to ensure that “the entire creative process for this play…be informed by the historic and ongoing prevalence of global anti-Semitism and recognition of the endemic denial of Palestinian rights.”

The Runner features Canadian actor Gord Rand as the internally-conflicted Jacob. As an accomplished filmmaker, actor, and playwright, Rand has appeared in productions at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, and recently in the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale. In The Runner, Rand performs his role on a long, narrow treadmill, adding to its complexity. Fluctuating in speed from a walk to a sprint, the talented actor delivers his captivating monologue in almost constant motion. He moves from a state of confusion and anxiety, unsure of who he is or what has transpired, to the recollection of his actions and the subsequent fallout within the ZAKA community and his own family.  The audience accompanies Jacob for every part of his long and intense journey.

The treadmill itself can be considered part setting, part character, and part metaphor for life. It prompts existential questions of whether the paths of our lives are pre-determined, or if we have the free will to choose our direction, given our own morals and the complexities surrounding life’s ethical dilemmas. The Runner is exactly the play to be seen at the Grand’s McManus Stage, as its emotionally provocative material suits what Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum refers to as “an intimate setting in which we are able to explore powerful stories, up close.” As the world’s political and social divides seem to intensify, The Runner reminds us of the lives of those who Morris says “put human decency above tribalism, while knowing full well the consequences they’ll face.” Jacob’s choice to save the life of the young girl, and the fall-out of that decision, prompts the audience to contemplate and consider what playwright Morris identifies as “the extremes of human condition.” He examines, “what happens to us when we are pushed to our spiritual, moral, and emotional limits… it’s at these times that we see the best, and worst, of who we are.”

Tickets for The Runner are on sale now, and can be purchased by calling the Grand Theatre box office at 519.672.8800, or by visiting grandtheatre.com.

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