Theatre Preview: The Martini Redemption

By Courtney Post

The scene is chaos redefined. A large prison riot in full swing and one of the inmates gets beaten and stabbed to death by three other inmates. As if that wasn’t enough, his naked body is then dragged up and down the prison hallways, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. After a while his corpse is finally thrown out a broken window in of one the cells. It’s not an episode of the HBO series Oz. It was real, and it happened at Drumheller Penitentiary in 2001. Perhaps there should be a show called Drum.

Instead of that, Clem Martini from the U of C’s Drama Department was commissioned by Citadel Theatre to look into the events at Drumheller Penitentiary and to see if he could make some sense out of what happened. He attended the 2003 inquiry into the riots, as well as the murder trial of the three inmates involved in the fatal stabbing. Out of this came his play Control.

“I can understand the why of how that description came about” says Martini about his play being described as one part CBC News and one part Oz. “It is set in a prison, and the context is that there is a prison riot.”

Control begins with just an average day in prison. Dwayne Unger trains a rookie, Conner Laidlaw is applying for his weekend pass, and Chooch Hamasoka explores ways to get a contraband package past security. But when an explosive riot suddenly breaks out at a medium security penitentiary, prisoners and guards get an opportunity to find out who exactly is in control.

“Oz is set in a prison, this is set in a prison,” Martini says of the comparison to the hit HBO show everyone seems to make. “The play is also set partially in the inquiry into the events. So we flip back and forth between the prison and the inquiry. It’s about a number of different players in the prison. We get to see the perspective of the guards, the perspective of people who have been in the prison system for a number of years, and we get a look at the perspective of people who have just entered into the system for the first time.”

Prison isn’t pleasant. Thanks to things like Oz, prison is the dank dark world of constant danger. Why would anybody be so interested in the Drumheller prison riots? Weird and awful things happen on the inside and Martini asks himself how this could happen. As foreign as prison seems to be, it’s a world that’s part of our own. Thus it’s curiosity drawing people to work like Control.

“It’s a mystery,” Martini says of the play. “Prisons in general are pretty opaque to us from the outside. We put people in there, we have a responsibility try and figure it out. To know what’s going on and why? How can people treat other people in the manner that they do and what responsibility do we have?”

No grimy prison cells grace a stage quite yet, no orange jumpsuits or plastic shivs have been made. The play hasn’t begun a stage production, but a reading is being planned. If you enjoy the staged reading of this play, you may be disappointed to learn that there are no plans for a full production for at least a year. For now you’ll have to rely on reruns of Oz to get your prison drama fix.

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