Friday, February 8, 2013

A historical case of a miscarriage of justice and a human ape make for two hot stage offerings for a cold February in Montreal

Although the weather outside is the typical bitterly cold that’s usually associated with February, the Montreal theatre scene certainly isn’t hibernating this winter. Here are two productions that are currently burning up the stage.

The latest offering in the Centaur Theatre’s 2012-2013 subscription season is “Innocence Lost”, a compelling examination of the Steven Truscott murder case that has polarized Canadians for more than 50 years. In 1959, Truscott, a 14-year-old teenage boy who lived near a Canadian Forces base in rural Ontario, was arrested, tried and convicted of the rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper … and was sentenced to hang (his sentence was later commuted by then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to life in prison).

The play, a co-production with Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, is done with a docudrama approach, in which the people of Truscott’s hometown, the police, the trial lawyers, the judge and Truscott’s family and friends tell the whole sordid story of this terrible miscarriage of justice. The first half of the play sets the tone of innocence of the town prior to the murder, and how that innocence became lost with Harper’s murder and the rather speedy trial that rushed a guilty verdict for young Truscott. The second half of the play deals with how that verdict affected the townspeople – directly and indirectly – and how it took away the innocence of everyone involved, especially when Isabel Le Bourdais’ best selling 1966 book “The Trial of Steven Truscott” established a great deal of reasonable doubt and reopened the case for establishing the fact that Truscott did not commit the murder.

The ensemble cast of 10 actors – who perform a total of 40 roles – has done a tremendous job of theatrical multitasking, and never loses their tempo when switching from one role to another (veteran actress Fiona Reid (classicTV mavens remember her as Cathy King in the popular 1970s CBC sitcom "King of Kensington") shines as Isabel Le Bourdais, and Trevor Barrette and Joan Wiecha somehow bear an eerie resemblance to Steven Truscott and Lynne Harper, respectively).

At the reception following the opening night performance, playwright Beverley Cooper told the gathering that Truscott himself saw the play when it debuted six years ago, and gave it his personal approval. I think that seals the validity and importance of this play, as it boldly displays what a miscarriage of justice and a rush to judgment can turn our justice system into a stark travesty, and how it can divide and polarize not only a small town in Ontario, but also all of Canada. “Innocence Lost” is playing at the Centaur until February 24. For more information go to

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Another local stage production of note these days is Infinitheatre’s “Kafka’s Ape”, which is playing at the Bain St. Michel – located at 5300 St. Dominique Street – until February 17.

Based on the story “A Report to an Academy” by Franz Kafka, the premise of “Kafka’s Ape” is the annual general meeting of Graywater, an international military “security” firm in which one of its bombastic slogans is that it’s a “company of heroes”. Mr. Redpeter, a half man-half ape dressed in a tuxedo, is the keynote speaker at the meeting.

Throughout his speech, Redpeter (excellently played by Howard Rosenstein) relates to the audience (who indirectly portray the Graywater shareholders at the meeting), of his somewhat “evolution” from ape to human (or as he refers to as “uman” – pronounced “oo-man”) from his capture in his native Gold Coast of Africa to his “education” to humanhood thanks to Graywater, where he becomes a certified hand-to-hand combat instructor for the company.

Rosenstein gives an intriguing performance as Mr. Redpeter, in which he shows that although he has become a somewhat “civilized” human, there are still traces of his primate past that still seep in (especially his apelike dance when he polishes off an entire bottle of fine wine, glassful by glassful); basically, he effectively melds the mannerisms of ape and human in one well acted package. There’s plenty of irony in this play, as Redpeter, a distinguished, cultured and intelligent member of the peace industry shows that such an enforced personal change has made him more of an animal than before his rather violent capture in deepest, darkest Africa (and is not afraid to drop his trousers to proudly display his entry wound scars to the audience).

In a way, “Kafka’s Ape” is almost an intellectual argument for the raison d’etre of the “Planet of the Apes” movies, where one breed’s contempt for another breed has created so much confusion in the evolutionary food chain. An engaging solo performance. For more information go to