'Innocence Lost: The Steven Truscott Story' by Beverly Cooper
Presented by Theatre on the Ridge and now onstage at Scugog Shores Village and Museum, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry
Credit: Barry McCluskey. Pictured: Karly Friesen as Sarah
The strong Theatre on the Ridge ensemble cast handles the dramatic intensity with dignity, tact, and grace. There’s nary a weather of histrionics in the performance.
Set in 1959 in Clinton, Ontario, Beverly Cooper’s ‘Innocence Lost’ dramatizes the unfortunate tragedy that erased the innocence of the lives of many young people in the town. Based on the true story of the Steven Truscott judicial case, the play describes the murder and rape of Lynne Harper (Sarah Kaufmann) through the eyes of the fictional character Sarah (Karly Friesen), the story’s narrator. At times, the production describes graphic narration that forever changes the town of Clinton when fourteen-year-old classmate Steven Truscott (Liam Ryan) is charged with Lynne Harper’s rape and murder.
‘Innocence Lost’ recounts how rumours, fearmongering, and lies turn people against an innocent man as the town of Clinton desperately want to close this part of its residents’ lives.
The play spans from 1959 – 2007. It’s unfathomable to think it took forty-eight years to dismiss the rape and murder charges against Steven. Additionally, has Lynn Harper's family been able to find any closure? A possible clue is given in the second act
I saw ‘Innocence Lost’ at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre several years ago. At the time, that edge-of-the-seat production begged to be discussed later because a lot happened underneath the characters’ lives, words, and actions. Theatre on the Ridge audiences are fortunate that playwright Beverly Cooper will attend the July 19 performance and be available for a Q and A following the show to discuss these issues. Please check Theatre on the Ridge’s website for further information on Cooper’s speaking engagement.
Does the same edge of the seat feeling still hold for Theatre on the Ridge’s production?
It most certainly does, save for a few minor technical issues that can be fixed immediately.
The strong ensemble cast handles the dramatic intensity with dignity, tact, and grace under Carey Nicholson’s solid direction.
Make sure you pay close attention to the pre-show activity that takes place outside the tent. Director Carey Nicholson shows life in this small southwestern Ontario town in 1959 before the awful events. She captures that feeling thanks to Sarah Jewell’s period costumes and props. A young boy and girl walk by, with the boy steering a bicycle. This is Steven Truscott and Lynne Harper. Two boys are playing catch. Two ladies are walking and talking to each other, perhaps gossiping.
Lyle Corrigan’s opening musical soundscape aptly captures the era’s tunes. A slight quibble in Act 2 near the end can be fixed. The dialogue is difficult to hear because the song is too loud.
Carey Nicholson has designed the set where the audience sits on both sides, and the action takes place on the raised stage in front. There are steps around to allow the actors to exit and enter. Plot action also takes place on the floor in front of the stage. Nicholson makes a wise choice to do this. Not only does it allow for the use of levels to maintain audience interest, but it also becomes a symbolic reminder that people will always see events from different perspectives since the audience sits on both sides.
But another slight quibble regarding the set design.
From where my guest and I sat, it is sometimes tricky to hear any upstage dialogue or if an actor’s back is turned to deliver dialogue to the audience on the other side. Hopefully, all the actors will take this note as a reminder about audibility issues in playing to both sides.
Most of the eleven-member cast assume multiple roles. For the sake of space and time, I cannot comment on all.
As the fictional narrator Sarah, Karly Friesen shares her perspective of the events as a believable 14-year-old classmate of Lynne and Steven’s. Sarah’s wavering between believing and not believing Steven and recognizing how the potential of darkness existing in all human souls becomes genuinely heartfelt. As the young Steven and Lynne, Liam Ryan and Sarah Kaufmann eerily capture a sweetness of youthful innocence where I can’t even begin to imagine the atrocities both endured. As the older Steven Truscott, Austin White exudes tremendous frustration in maintaining his hope of innocence.
As Lynne’s parents and Steven’s mother, Adrian Marchesano, Emily Templeman, and Annette Stokes-Harris’s palpable fear and the eventual reality of what has happened to their respective children cuts right to the heart. Thankfully, these three performers do not revert to histrionics. Instead, they allow the meaning of their words to sink into the audience’s understanding in formulating an opinion as to what happened.
Reid Martin and Briony Merritt are convincing as mother and daughter who view this volatile situation in the town from opposing views. Elyssia Giancola’s eye contact with the audience as she shares her perspective of the story is intently firm.
Regarding Isabel LeBourdais’s book concerning the trial in the second act, Michael Serres’ moment as Reverend Bagnall in confrontation with Adrian Marchesano as Mr. Harper becomes riveting to watch for the few minutes it occurs. Serres and Marchesano remain intently strong, especially when the latter discovers how the former becomes involved with LeBourdais’s book.
Again, another quibble in audibility issues comes with Emily Templeman as Isabel LeBourdais. The second act focuses on the book she writes. However, there were moments when Templeman is upstage and I had difficulty hearing what she said. I also found moments when some of her line delivery was rushed with garbled words. My guest and I couldn’t decipher what she said. I could also hear others around me saying, ‘What did she say?’
Final Comments: Watching ‘Innocence Lost’ grimly reminds me of the 1984 wrongful conviction and eventual overturning of the Guy Paul Morin case concerning the rape and murder of his neighbour, nine-year-old Christine Jessop, in Queensville, Ontario.
Steven Truscott and Guy Paul Morin’s stories and accusations were horrible. Again, I can’t even begin to imagine what the two men endured in the judicial atrocities thrown at them.
These stories need to be told and shared. We need to understand how these mistakes were made and avoid this happening again.
I applaud Theatre on the Ridge for staging important Canadian theatre and social justice issues like this.
‘Innocence Lost’ is one important story you must see this summer.
And, if you can, go to Beverly Cooper’s Q and A. I’m out of town that performance otherwise I would have attended.
Running Time: approximately two hours with one intermission.
‘Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott’ runs until July 29 at Scugog Shores Museum, 16210 Island Road, Port Perry. For tickets to the production and to learn about Beverly Cooper’s question and answer following the July 19 performance, visit https://theatreontheridge.ca/
INNOCENCE LOST: A PLAY ABOUT STEVEN TRUSCOTT by Beverly Cooper
Directed by Carey Nicholson
Stage Manager: Emma Church
Production Assistant/ASM/Lighting Technician: Parker Drebit
Costumes/Props: Sarah Jewell
Sound Design and Technician: Lyle Corrigan
Technical Direction and Lighting Design: Colin Hughes
Digital Production Coordinator: Jana Tolmie
Performers: Karly Friesen, Elyssia Giancola, Sarah Kaufmann, Andrian Marchesano, Reid Martin, Briony Merritt, Liam Ryan, Michael Serres, Annette Stokes-Harris, Emily Templeman, Austin White