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Allan Morgan & Fiona Reid  Photo: Lucy Tremblay Gaudette
Allan Morgan & Fiona Reid Photo: Lucy Tremblay Gaudette

Theatre Review: "Innocence Lost" at the NAC

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"Innocence Lost, A Play about Steven Truscott" is currently running at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through March 16. It premiered at the Blyth Festival in 2008 and this mounting is a co-production of the National Arts Centre English Theatre and the Centaur Theatre Company of Montreal.

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Reported by

Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

"Innocence Lost, A Play about Steven Truscott" by Beverly Cooper, tells the story of a 1959 murder and subsequent trial whose outcome eventually changed the entire Canadian judicial system.  Fourteen-year-old Steven Truscott was tried and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his twelve-year-old classmate Lynn Harper.  Continuously maintaining his innocence through many appeals, his conviction was finally overturned in 2007.  Playwright Cooper explores the case using trial transcripts and interviews to help understand its effects on both the country and Steven’s friends and family.

Although this is a fascinating story, the structure of INNOCENCE LOST feels much more like a documentary than a play.  The majority of the story, especially in Act I, is told either in narration or statements of facts delivered as direct address to the audience.  Even in Act II, which contains more short dramatic scenes, we just begin to become involved when the scene is broken off for more narration.

That said, the dramatic elements are largely furnished by the physical production.  Designer Luc Prairie’s wonderful lighting of James Lavoi’s excellent set produces a powerful emotional element, particularly with light and shadow on the huge slatted wood backdrop.  The video designs of George Allister and Patrick Andrew Boivin add yet another strong dramatic touch.  The original music and sound by Keith Thomas subtly supports the dramatic and emotional scope of the piece.  I should also mention Mr. Lavoi’s authentic looking costumes that work very well for the many changes.

Speaking of changes, this is a strong cast, most of whom play multiple roles.  Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and Michael Spencer-Davis both do a fine job covering 18 roles between them.  Pippa Leslie is also very good, as is Allan Morgan, particularly as Mr. Harper.  As Steven, Trevor Barrette presents a moving picture of self-conscious and confused adolescence.

Jenny Young is fresh and believable as Sarah, the primary narrator, who was a classmate of Steven.  Initially believing in his innocence, she is swayed by gossip and the trial.  It is through her eyes we come to terms with the reality of what happened, at least as much as can be known.  The real murderer was never found.

The always excellent Fiona Reid plays six roles with consummate skill and chameleon-like ease.  She is especially powerful as Isobel LeBourdais whose book “The Trial of Steven Truscott” was instrumental in getting the case re-opened.

Director Roy Surette has staged the piece with a sure hand.  Despite the narrative quality, it never becomes static.  The few props and furniture pieces appear and disappear with unobtrusive fluidity. The short dialogue scenes are strong and believable.  Even though the play never draws us in emotionally, it does hold our interest.  I overheard someone say, “This would make a good radio play.”  Perhaps, but then we’d miss the lighting and the music.  It has inspired me, though, to read Miss LeBourdais’ book.

On a scale of one to five the NAC English Theatre/Centaur Theatre Company co-production of INNOCENCE LOST gets four Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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