‘Gruelling’ was the word that came to mind as I watched Marathon, a new theatre and dance piece by Aharona Israel, part of the Progress festival at The Theatre Centre. Gruelling in a good way.
Clad in running gear, the three performers run in circles for a full, hyperkinetic hour. Besides the occasional “change!” signalling a change of direction, they call out words like “traffic!” “remember!” “hora!” “shiksa!” and “grenade!” accompanying each with a stylized gesture.
But nothing changes, really. They just get more and more exhausted. Shoulders slump, footsteps shuffle. For one seemingly interminable passage, they don’t change direction at all. “Are you dizzy?” They ask the audience. Yes. We’re all dizzy. The only place to slow down or stop is the middle of the stage, but the introspection that happens there is unproductive, tormented or both. Best to keep running.
The performers address the audience, and each other; still, the words don’t so much tell a story as create a collage of commonplaces. Punctuating the relentless rhythm of the footsteps, phrases return as they would in an exhausted runner’s mind.
Bathed in an atmosphere of machismo, the lone woman is jostled, pulled and blocked with a jarring lack of deference. At one point she’s herded menacingly into the middle, a place where she does not want to be. She shouts out obscenities with the best of them, yet her speech is marked by a girlish quality as she defines her role as a bereaved relative, a suffering sibling. The rituals of grieving she describes have a formulaic, unsatisfying quality. She offers food insistently, then pinches disgustedly at her trim figure, wherever she can find flesh.
War does not appear as a featured event; it emerges from the prevailing mood. The occasional raids, with their atmosphere of panic and confusion, are not followed by any hint of rest. The race continues, as fast as ever. Thus, momentum itself becomes a heartbreaking plot element. The most disturbing moment comes at the end. Because Marathon doesn’t end. The three performers keep on running, and we have no choice but to abandon them.
Marathon is very much rooted in contemporary Israeli society, but to me, it’s a universal cry for rest and introspection. These individual, exhausted bodies are make up a country, and in our visceral response to them, we can’t help but recognize elements from our own lives.