Review by Judith Robinson
The characters in Soulpepper’s production of “Innocence Lost; a play about Steven Truscott”, are collectively evil, ignorant and frightening. Director Jackie Maxwell creates a stunning ensemble masterpiece and a community chorus of condemnation reminiscent of the Greek tragedies in her depiction of Beverly Cooper’s docudrama.
While most Canadians might find it hard to believe, that an innocent 14-year-old boy would be wrongly convicted of rape and murder in their neighbourhood, this play reveals that it’s a likely possibility. Nancy Polk’s compelling portrayal of Isabel LeBourdais, the writer who spent many years attempting to acquit Steven Truscott after his 1959 conviction, demonstrates that justice seekers are an unpopular lot.
LeBourdais was shut out in the small town of Clinton, Ontario, west of Stratford, when she tried to talk to Truscott’s former schoolmates and friends.
Though many authority figures and community members could have helped the teenager, most chose to convict Truscott. There was the judge – also played by Polk, who disregarded the evidence under pressure from the officers of the nearby Air Force base (one of whom was the likely culprit); Jocelyne Gaudet portrayed by Akosua Amo-Adem, who lied to spite the boy who spurned her; a bully ‘Butch George’; played by Caroline Gillis who wrongly testified to bring down a popular competitor. The silent majority represented by the story’s narrator – ‘Sarah’ interpreted by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, who dared not challenge her parents in order to assist her friend. Sarah’s mother played by Deborah Drakeford, in the strongest performance in the piece with her proud and rigid condemnation of anyone who was different.
The condemnatory mood was accentuated by Camellia Koo’s haunting set design. A backdrop of bare trees reached up to the sky creating the impression of gigantic prison bars, through which Truscott – played by Dan Mousseau peered at the audience. Bonnie Beecher’s lighting also helped to create a foggy atmosphere in which nothing and no one was clearly revealed.
Canadian culture can be complicated and complex and this play reveals just how rotten the core can become. Though its message is disturbing, this play serves as a warning to what can happen when Canadians disregard the facts and allow the powerful to smear the evidence. The play and production present a horrifying mirrored self-image and an excellent dramatic reenactment of the attitude in many Ontario communities today.
“An Innocence Lost, a play about Steven Truscott” is onstage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto until June 23rd. …Don’t miss it!