Playtime at the NAC! It’s always quite exciting, really, because they still haven’t figured out I totally don’t belong in that swanky place. Although I did go to the effort of wearing one of my cleaner shirts this time around, so I think I did a better job than usual at blending in. Not that anyone was paying particular attention to me, as we were all there for the premiere of Beverly Truscott’s INNOCENCE LOST, directed by Roy Surette and starring a gaggle of the NAC’s finest regulars, on concert with Montreal’s Centaur Theatre.
Based on the true, and pretty grim story of Steven Truscott (played here by Trevor Barrette) who ran afoul of some pretty unfortunate luck back in 1959, in a small Ontario town. Like, ‘sentenced to hang for a crime he didn’t commit’ bad. Steven, a well-liked if shy local lad, seemed to be having a pleasant enough 14-year old existence. Even had a few lady admirers, including Sarah (Jenny Young), who serves as our guide for a lot of the story that unfolds. Unfortunately, young Lynne Harper seemed to dote on Steven as well, and one evening asked him for a ride on his bike out over the bridge, down the highway. He obliged, and turned back on his lonesome, saying he saw her getting into a car as he departed. That was the last anyone ever saw of Lynne…alive, anyhow. Her murdered body was found a day later, an investigation was launched, and Steven Truscott was not only declared suspect #1, but the police and crown made it their mission to make sure he was guilty, one way or another.
The play follows the investigation and sham of a trial, leading to 14-year old Steven being sentenced to hang (though that would be overturned on appeal), and the subsequent years of struggle to acquit Truscott of the crime he clearly did not commit. Set on an elegant and simple stage from James Lavoie, and aided by some gorgeous video and lighting effects throughout, LOST plays out documentary-style, concentrating on the facts of the tale and never going for the over-the-top emotional chest-beating that could have occurred. There’s plenty of emotion, of course, my fav’rit examples being from the community members who were convinced of Truscott’s guilt as soon as the accusation was made, and their rancor when it started being questioned. It speaks volumes to the burning desire for closure (and, let’s face it, revenge) that sits inside us all, and was a major factor in the bungling of the Lynne Harper case. Act two gets a cool bump in energy with the arrival in town of journalist Isabel leBourdais (Fiona Reid), who goes on to write a best-selling book outlining the holes in the case. It’s a pretty eye-opening look at how the Justice System can collapse on itself, even in good ol’Canada.
A few times I felt not as drawn in as I could have hoped, mostly due to the noted docudrama style of the play…it’s hard for any breakout performances to shine through, not that the cast is anything less than excellent. And the compelling narrative more than makes up for any structural concerns I had…as well as some fun bits of campy nostalgia in act 2 when Sarah goes to University in BC during the swinging sixties. And it’s through Sarah’s eyes that we follow the whole story…from admirer of Truscott’s, to desperately believing in his guilt if only to find some peace, and finally…well, see for yourself. Truscott was finally acquitted of the crime in 2007 (better late than never..?) which is when this piece was commissioned for the Blyth Festival, by then artistic director Eric Coates, now main man at our very own GCTC. It’s an important piece of Canuck history, dark or no, and a story that deserves the telling. And this here is a good damn telling. You’ve got until the 16th, so get on out! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)