Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Innocence Lost

Jenny Young, Pippa Leslie and Joan Wiecha (photo credit:

Cause Célèbre
Canada's awful justice
by Caitlin Murphy

In the tradition of The Laramie Project, Beverly Cooper’s Innocence Lost reminds us that there are certain crimes that don’t so much happen in towns, as to them.  The story of Steven Truscott – a 14 year-old boy falsely convicted of the rape and murder of 12 year-old, Lynne Harper – was certainly such a case, not only for the town of Clinton, but ultimately for the entire country.   Though Innocence Lost compassionately and adeptly chronicles the Truscott tragedy, I think it could have unearthed a little more beyond the facts to move us along the way.

Under the direction of Roy Surette, the play is innovatively staged and constantly moving.

Originally written as a commissioned piece for Blyth Festival in 2008, Cooper’s script takes on the daunting task of recounting the Truscott story virtually point by point – from before Lynne Harper’s murder in 1959 right up to Truscott’s exoneration in 2007 – and manages this admirably well.  The genre of docu-drama is always fraught with challenges:  duty to the public record, responsibility to the real (perhaps still living) people involved, the sheer mass of information.  Though the story is essentially told to us by the townspeople from the time, Cooper further focalizes it through an invented classmate of Steven’s, Sarah. This choice certainly creates another layer to the story, and allows the playwright objective distance from the main players, but I’m not sure it adds much.  The conceit of the ensemble as a symphony of story-tellers is already so overt in the piece, that the doubling feels a bit confusing and unnecessary.  

Under the direction of Roy Surette, this co-production between the Centaur Theatre and National Arts Centre is innovatively staged and constantly moving.  In an early example, the company quickly unfurls strips of material in criss-cross patterns across the stage’s green surface, eventually ‘drawing’ the map of Clinton for us.  Clever.  That said, in the chronological unfolding of the crime and trial, with so many characters popping in and out, things sometimes felt too busy and hurried.  I found the play most powerful when imagistically evoking specific moments in the story, as opposed to dutifully itemizing them.  In a particularly haunting instance, the company lined up across the back of the stage as the search party for Lynne Harper, and slowly, in unison, moved towards us.  The alchemy of music, lighting and staging was absolutely breathtaking.  And it was in such moments, where the play was working mostly as theatre, and not documentary or narrative, that the piece was most resonant.

James Lavoie’s elegant set is evocatively lit by Luc Prairie, and video projections – which usually make me mental on stage – are handled here with refreshing nuance and smarts by video designers Patrick Andrew Boivin and George Allister.  The black and white images, splashed in near Imax proportions across a massive slatted wooden wall, consistently served the narrative and elicited emotional connection.  Anchoring the conceit in the play’s opening – by having Sarah run a projector, screening old family videos, as the ensemble company gathers to watch – the projections wound up working beautifully, better than I have ever seen on stage.

Together the ensemble cast of 10 tackle over 40 roles.  Allan Morgan is particularly gifted at creating clear and engaging distinctions among his several authority figures. 

Julie Tamiko-Manning also bounces admirably (and often remarkably quickly!) between her two highly contrasted roles of Stephen’s mother, Doris, and his twitchy male classmate, Butch.  Young Joan Wiecha (as Lynne Harper) with a shock of curly blond hair, and impossible doll eyes, quickly conjures a Shirley Temple and immediately earns our adoration.

Though it’s nearly impossible to not remain engaged with the fast-pace of the script, dynamic staging, versatile players, and revolving projections in Innocence Lost, I felt myself often wanting to simply feel more.  Beyond the obvious themes of the senselessness of violence, the horror of injustice, the impact of shared tragedy that emerge from the story of Steven Truscott, I felt like there were some more original sentiments awaiting articulation.  As it stood, it was in the play’s quiet, more solemn moments of breath and contemplation that the story’s true heart was stunningly laid bare. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.