Exposing the injustice of a life that was lost too early and one that was saved too late.
It was a cold Montreal winter day in 2013, the girl was meeting up with the guy for date #3 (big deal, eh!). The plan was to go for drinks then attend a play (the typical dinner + movie thing so nauseating, so this was a good change). She was anxious to see him again but he was running a bit late (really? He’s not gonna show up?), but he made it just in time. As the night came to a close and she gave him a ride in her “fancy” green car, they parted ways, not knowing if they would ever see each other again…
Rewind… It was a warm summer night in 1959, the girl, Lynne Harper (Joan Wiecha), was 12 and the boy, Steven Truscott (Trevor Barrette), was 14. They were doing what every kid their age in Clinton County, Ontario, would do after dinner on a school night. Some of them would get dragged by their parents to help with the chores; others would go to the nearby creek for a swim. The boy gave the girl a ride on his shiny green bicycle, dropped her off and took one last look at her as he crossed the bridge. Little did he know that he would become the last person to see Harper alive. Not a soul could have foreseen that the unfolding of events from that night would set the precedents in one of Canada’s biggest and longest mistrial ever.
Innocence Lost, based on a true story and written by playwright Beverley Cooper, follows the chronological events that led to the murder of Lynne Harper and the trial and wrongful conviction that ensued of Steven Truscott. Similar to a Dateline NBC Friday night special investigative reporting (that I watch religiously in my snuggie…), this play brings together the members of a small community as they desperately try to pinpoint this gruesome act of violence on someone, anyone really! As with the TV show, the play left me with that feeling of emptiness at the end, wondering “ok, so who don’ it? How can justice be brought to those who deserve it?” Ultimately, there is just so much more to this “Salem witch hunt” like story than two innocent lives that were lost and trying finding the real culprit. This is a tale of awakening on the blind faith that we put in our justice system and the aftermath of this loss on everyone left behind.
Now, brace yo’self for some serious name-dropping because it’s the collective effort of the whole crew that made it possible to bring together this wonderful piece and I want to credit them. The on-stage presence of Sarah (Jenny Young), a fictional character whose role comes in handy to narrate this (sadly) true story is beautifully showcased by lighting designer, Luc Prairie. He makes this light effect with the side spots that bring out the eyes and vulnerability of each character (I was told by my date that this is the new hit thing to do in theatre these days… He’s the expert…). The eyes carry such a strong meaning as it allows us to feel an urge of empathy towards Truscott as he is sitting for trial, his mother (Julie Tamiko Manning) who claims his innocence and Lynne’s father (Allan Morgan) who just wants justice to be served. Video designers George Allister and Patrick Andrew Boivin complemented the set design with multimedia projections, showing us, among others, Steven’s dreamy eyes which occupy Sarah’s daydreams as a teenager at the very beginning of the play and which finally help her see his innocence, with just one look, decades later. It’s through the eyes of the characters that we get a sense of the anger, shock, fear and misunderstanding they felt in the wake of the events that shook their small world.
The rhythm of the play is a constant fast-pace of monologues, dialogues and ensemble that is dynamic, mostly engaging, yet sometimes confusing (a confusion that correlates to that of the mistrial). The collective narrative of the town people coming together is like a brouhaha, but we come to understand that this is how it must have felt like for the townspeople… I mean this situation made no sense! How could a 14 year old be sentenced to hang for killing a fellow classmate? For a story with such a deep and dark undertone, the actors gracefully portrayed their characters in a setting that seems calm and serene, thanks to set designer James Lavoie. The wooden wall on which there were multimedia projections, the soft green of the set and that little tiny bush in the center of the stage felt almost peaceful. It might seem like a paradox considering the violence of the crime, but the script was written with such caution and applied sensitivity that I felt “carefully” drawn in, unlike the sensationalism that we are exposed to everyday which depletes crimes like this one of their human aspect and makes us immune to even the most gory events.
On a brighter note, Innocence Lost, directed by Roy Surette, will be presented at the Centaur Theatre until February 24th and then moves on to Ottawa for more showings, so you still have a chance to see it if you haven’t already!
Fast forward back to now…In case you were wondering, the date, just like the play, ended with, well… let’s put it that way, more questions than answers… But what I came to realize after this date and seeing how this play unfolded, it’s that nothing can really be black or white, but rather 50 shades of grey.