Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

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Photo. Barb Gray

Although it appears to be a play About Steven Truscott,  Innocence lost is really a play about us, our place in the community and our responsibility to act upon our knowledge, analytical abilities and consciousness. Beverley Cooper’s story about the miscarriage of justice in the well-known case of Steven Truscott’s trial sets a few unsettling questions deep into our mind:

When, why and how does an intelligent human being turn into a particle mashed up into the invisible, thoughtless grey mass? What makes the majority into blind followers of so-called “betters” rather than independent thinkers capable of making their own decisions? And, above all, where does a community end up if individuals allow themselves to be manipulated into thinking the way that socially imposed authorities want or need them to?

The story of Steven Truscott’s case is set in the small town of Clinton on the military base. The narrative takes us to the summer of 1955. A gruesome rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl is committed. Steven, a 14-year-old boy, is accused of the deed and condemned to death by hanging, though the sentence is later overturned to life imprisonment. He spent 10 years in prison and decades of his post-prison life with the assumed identity. Thanks to the help of the few who believed in the boy’s innocence (based on the given facts), Steven Truscott was acquitted in 2007. Justice was very slow in coming, slow enough not to hurt any of the officials involved. Although the real perpetrator was never named, the play clearly indicates that a man in army uniform and covered with a cloak was seen at the place of the murder, pointing out that the whole affair was actually a cover up. Still, no one seemed bothered by details such as why someone would walk around in a cloak on a hot summer morning or that the only person who dared to ask questions about the case had to leave the base.

The play, based on a true-life story, is presented as a combination of documentary, story telling, and classical theatre. The first act gives us all the necessary details about daily life in Clinton. It might be a little bit long, but it allows the audience to get acquainted with the characters and circumstances of the case. The tone is set as the memory or Steven’s classmate Sarah. Jenny Young proves to be a good choice for the demanding role, excellently transforming from a teenager to a university student and, finally to a mother of her own 14-year-old boy. She convincingly conveys each of these life stages. All her feelings – conviction, confusion, denial, and disappointment – come off as real.

The second act was less informative, but the connection with the audience was much stronger. In about half an hour, all the intensity of injustice, crushed dreams, and ruined lives came out into the open. It feels like an accusation and exoneration of every person present there – on the stage and in the audience. By this point, it’s no longer the story of Steven Truscott, but all of us – about our actions and scruples.

All elements of the play worked well and came together as a whole, especially the inventive set design by James Lavoie and exceptional directing by Roy Surrete.

On my way out, I heard a lady who said, “This play will haunt [her] for days.” No better compliment needed!

NAC Theatre

February 27 – March 16, 2013

Coproduction: the NAC English Theatre and Centaur Theatre company (Montreal)

Director: Roy Surrete

Set and Costume: James Lavoie

Original Nusic and Sound: Keith Thomas

Lighting: Luc Prairie

Video Design: George Allister and Patrick Andrew Boivin

Cast:

Sarah — Jenny Young

Mother, Registrar, Brown Owl, Darlene — Jane Wheeler

Father, Dan Truscott, Hays, Rev. Bragnell, Teacher, Constable, Lawyer, Oliver — Michael Spencer-Davis

Isabel LeBourdais, Woman from Air Force base, Mrs. Harper, Maggie — Fiona Reid

Mr. Harper, Harold Graham, Judge, Dr. Penistan, Hobbs, Local Man, Stoner — Allan Morgan

Jocelyne Gaudet, Lynn Johnston, Trudy, Barbara — Pippa Leslie

Juror’s son, Gordon Logan, Richard Gellatly, Dougie Oates, Leger, NCO, Ken, Jim, Bob Lawson, Boy — Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

Steven Truscott, Son — Trevor Barrette

Lynne Harper, Karen Daum — Joan Wiecha

Doris Truscott, Butch George — Julie Tamiko Manning