Innocence Lost

By Alan Hustak on February 1, 2013


Innocence  Lost at the Centaur Theatre until Feb 21, tells  how a  web of mindless suspicion woven by decent,  god-fearing folk  in a rural Ontario  ensnared and destroyed Stephen Truscott, the  14-year old who was convicted and sentenced to hang for the 1959 rape and murder of a 12-year old classmate, Lynne Harper,  - a murder he  did not commit.   Under  Roy Surette’s  flawless,  even- handed direction, the production  of Beverley Cooper’s play quietly lays bare every painful emotion of that reprehensible chapter of  Canadian judicial history.  The cast of ten in  multiple  roles  is inspired.  Each and every actor brings to life the various respectable small-minded characters they play in a distinct theatrical creation. 

lost_innocence.jpgInnocence Lost was commissioned by the Blyth Festival in 2007  immediately after Truscott was finally acquitted of all charges almost 50-years after the event.  The script  often seems like a darker, more painful Canadian version  of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.   Jenny Young, as Sarah, serves to narrate the story, guiding us matter-of-factly  through the signals of impending doom.  Much of the pain is derived from Trevor Barrette’s extraordinary performance as the guileless Steven. From the moment Barette first appears in a rear screen projection which helps  unspool the story throughout, his broad smile and engaging demeanour win our trust.  Watching as that naive trust is systematically betrayed by the very people meant to uphold as he grows into manhood,  is simply heartbreaking. 

Joan  Weicha makes an impressive professional stage  debut as Lynne.  Brendan McMurtry Howlett, Julie Tamiko Manning, are scene stealers no matter which character they portray.   Fiona Reid, who does not appear until the second act as the crusading journalist  Isabel  LeBourdais convincingly conveys the steely determination that a woman needed in the 1960s to expose the injustice. No one believed her, and she had a hard time getting her book which broke the case wide open published.

The other cast members, Michael Spencer Davis, Jane Wheeler, Allan Morgan and  Pippa Leslie  bring their considerable individual talents to play  to make the ensemble piece as affecting as it is. James Lavoie’s set allows for a fluid staging, Luc La Prairie’s lighting helps maintain the mood, and music by Keith Thomas is superbly evocative of the period. Patrick Boivin’s  video design serves the production well. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have more than a passing interest in the case; I knew and was inspired by LeBourdais whose book convincingly demonstrated  Truscott’s innocence  and as a CTV reporter  covered Truscott’s parole hearing. As a result, I wrote my own They Were Hanged, which examined the flaws of capital punishment. 

 Sadly, LeBourdais did not live to see Truscott  finally acquitted of the crime.  When the play ends, you are left with the uncomfortable feeling that the wounds left by this gross miscarriage of justice haven’t healed; the scars are still there, and they are still ugly. There are still those who ask that if Truscott didn’t do it, who  did? 

 If you can’t catch the show at  the Centaur,  it plays  the National Art Centre in Ottawa in March.



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