Let me preface this review by saying that The Runner is one of the best shows that I have seen at the Grand Theatre. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is the best show I’ve seen at the Grand Theatre. The show, written by Christopher Morris of Human Cargo and directed by Daniel Brooks, is brilliant in all aspects.
The Runner follows Jacob (Christopher Rand), an Orthodox Jewish man and a volunteer for ZAKA, in the heat of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jacob does not know where he is or what is happening to him, so he must recall the events leading up to his current situation. He begins by recounting the responsibilities of his job; one being gathering body parts from affected individuals after a bomb has detonated. Eventually, he recalls helping a Palestinian girl, an individual that his fellow volunteers had marked a terrorist. Jacob was chastised for giving the girl medical attention and that memory sparks a series of recollections, sending him into a spiral of internal conflict.
The show takes place on the McManus stage, a small, intimate space with general admission seating. When you enter the theatre for a performance of The Runner, you are greeted by a strip of treadmill that is elevated to waist height; the treadmill acts as the stage for the entirety of the performance. The use of a treadmill in a production is brilliant as a fast-moving treadmill with a fast runner is a natural sound effect. As the pace increases, the audience’s heart rate is sure to rise.
The use of lighting (designed by Bonnie Beecher) is quite simple, but it serves an important purpose. Two white spotlights illuminate the treadmill in the midst of a dark theatre. The contrast of darkness and light works to direct audience attention throughout the production. In many scenes, Jacob is pulled from the light and into the darkness, mimetic of the gloomy truths that he must confront.
Sound effects (designed by Alexander McSween) are abrupt and loud, a classic method of inciting fear in the audience’s hearts. When coupled with the sound of the treadmill and the stark lighting, the atmosphere is that of impending doom. It is hard to avoid the emotions that Jacob feels. For example, one moment in the performance, Rand has a shocking realization and begins to sprint. The treadmill whirrs and a loud noise blares. Rand falls backwards and the belt of the treadmill drags him backstage.
The costume (designed by Gillian Gallow) that Rand wears is practical as it is Jacob’s ZAKA uniform. It is the clothing that defines Jacob’s life and the moments that lead to his isolation. A basic dress shirt, black pants, and a bright yellow safety vest with various pockets is not restrictive to Rand or a distraction from the action.
Because Rand is the only actor in The Runner, he is wholly responsible for captivating an audience, and he certainly succeeds. Rand’s sheer concentration is one of his greatest talents as it takes endurance to monologue for one hour whilst running on a treadmill. No doubt, the show is physically demanding, but the energy never ceases.
Admittedly, more emphasis on important words or phrases could help viewers decipher critical moments. There were times when small, yet key details were quietly uttered, and as a result, the details could be lost. When significant details are glossed over, audience members can become confused because facts are pivotal to one’s understanding of the play’s content.
A few of the positives in his ability to emphasize are his heavy breathing, repetition, and eye contact. Eye contact is often dangerous in theatre as it can make audience members feel uncomfortable and awkward. The eye contact included in The Runner is highly effective as the show plays with the discomfort of the audience.
The Runner covers challenging topics in a manner that incites fear and unease. The use of technology to breed discomfort makes for an unforgettable theatre experience. Although fiction, the issues that The Runner touches on are particularly topical in a time where people believe that entire races, religions, or other large groups are an enemy. The show reminds us that we should be mindful of our biases and the information that has been passed onto us since birth.
For more information, please visit the Grand Theatre’s website: http://grandtheatre.com/event/runner