Soulpepper Theatre brings the infamous case of Steven Truscott to the Toronto stage
A 14-year-old boy offers a 12-year-old girl a ride on his bicycle. Later on he is arrested, charged with murder, and sentenced to hang. Soulpepper presents Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott written by Beverley Cooper, playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, about a case that left Canadians shocked for decades to come.
If you’re old enough to remember, or if you’re just fascinated by true crime like I am, the case of Steven Truscott is one that is hard to overlook — especially when looking at injustice carried out by the police and the ramifications of the death penalty in Canada.
Steven Truscott (Dan Mousseau) was 14 years old living in the small town of Clinton, Ontario near an air force base. The year was 1959, a time when kids learned freedom by being left to play outside unattended — they swam in rivers, fished, rode bikes long distances, and then eventually went home. It wasn’t something out of the ordinary when Steven decided to give a girl from his school, Lynne Harper (Berkley Silverman), a ride on his bike to the highway when she asked. Nothing out of the ordinary, until her body is later discovered in the woods raped and murdered, and Steven was the last person to see her alive.
Innocence Lost is told in first person narratives, just as these people delivered their accounts of the days leading up to the tragedy and the horrific day of. Every character in this play is true to life aside from Sarah (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) who serves as guide and surrogate for the audience — a young teen who knew both Steven and Lynne from her school, and grew up in a life permanently altered by the events of that day.
As a play, Innocence Lost pulls me in different directions. I loved that this play was able to utilize the testimony of the towns people involved and how much the fear, anger, and hurt is palpable within everyone. You see how fear mongering works and how easy it is for people to look for scapegoats.
I love the set design by Camellia Koo and how it’s utilized — tree trunks line the back wall with mist and haunting light seeping through causing breaks and shadows in the distance. The trees serve multiple purposes, namely the woods where Lynne is found and the jail cell bars where Steven is held. It is eerie and beautiful and delicately sets the tone for the play. I love how the actors linger and silently observe in and around the trees when they are not in the immediate scene.
The acting, however, is where I’m torn. There are great performances here — namely from Mousseau as Steven and Nancy Palk as Isabel LaBoudais, the journalist who wrote a book declaring that Steven was innocent and wrongfully tried (ironically, Palk also plays the judge at Steven’s trial). Most of the actors do double duty here and though usually I don’t mind a character doubling up on roles so long as both characters are played to the best of the actor’s ability, here I don’t think this is the case. For most of the cast, their main characters are adults either parents of the kids involved or members of local law enforcement. They are also tasked with playing the other local kids, ones who saw Lynne on the bike with Steven crossing the bridge, and who’s testimonies help shape the trial.
I just could not buy these adults playing young teens, and neither could my guest for the evening, Lena. As often, the addition of a baseball cap and a sulky sullen attitude was what set them apart from the adults. We both wish there could have been younger people cast to play the roles of these kids. It felt like they were played as caricatures rather than actual kids who are scared at the thought that a school friend is being tried for rape and murder and that their testimony could possibly condemn or free him.
Eye witness testimony is usually faulty and inconsistent, especially with young people. The words of these kids were twisted around by law enforcement and left them confused and uncertain of what they actually saw. I wish more of that was shown in the play.
Lena was also torn as to whether the character of Sarah was fully necessary in the play. Within the first act, Sarah played just another kid from school, one who had a crush on Steven and who knew Lynne but not well. Her position at this point seemed to help advise the audience of how a bystander could be affected by this tragedy tangentially. The character of Sarah, I found blossomed far more for the audience in the second act when she finds the case and her connection to it so haunting as she grows up that she leaves town for school, gets her own place, and has her own children. Yet the case’s long reaching affects still find their way to her.
Innocence Lost is an intriguing take on the Steven Truscott trial that, despite my misgivings for some of the acting choices, is a very well written, constructed, and performed play. Lena and I both enjoyed it and I’m sure you will, too. It’s definitely worth seeing.
- Innocence Lost is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until June 23 2018.
- Performances run Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm with 1:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and select Wednesdays, see website for details.
- ASL accessible performances on June 6 at 7:30 pm and June 9 at 1:30 pm.
- Tickets range from $35 – $95.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone by calling (416) 866 8666, or in person at the box office.
- Audience Advisory: Contains mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.
Photo of Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Berkley Silverman, and Dan Mousseau by Cylla von Tiedemann.