Theatre Preview: Play targets justice system

In 1959, 14-year-old Steven Truscott was sentenced to hang for the rape and murder of his 12-year-old classmate Lynne Harper, becoming the youngest death row inmate in Canada. His trial became one of the most well-known and controversial in our nation’s history. At the very last minute, Truscott’s sentence was changed to 10 years in prison. Ever since the incident he has maintained his innocence in his classmate’s death. Although now out of prison, with the reopening of the case by the Ontario Provincial Police Truscott isn’t necessarily a free man. For example, he cannot leave the country.

Truscott’s story has captured the hearts and minds of Canadians for over four decades. His life and trial is the subject of several books, a CBC documentary, and the play Steven: The Steven Truscott Story. For playwright and director Louis B. Hobson, who’s also a writer for the Calgary Sun, Steven is a labour of love 30 years in the making. Hobson, who is the same age as Truscott, credits his mother for providing the impetus for writing the play.

“She told me never to forget [Truscott],” he says. “When I started writing plays, she suggested I should write on him.”

Steven will be presented at the John Dutton Theatre in the W. R. Castell Central Library. The production coincides with Truscott’s visit to Calgary this week at the National Congress of Criminal Justice. Steven is a memory play wherein Truscott revisits his past. He speaks to the audience as he watches his teenage self in interviews with police leading to his arrest, trial and conviction. A surreal dream sequence has the teenage Steven and Lynne re-enact the bicycle ride, rape and murder as presented to the jury. The second act follows Steven through his prison term in Ontario.

Steven premiered in Calgary at Dancer Studio West last January. Hobson says there was fear the play would not be well-received due to the assumption Western Canadians wouldn’t be as familiar with the case. As it turns out, the response was very positive. The River Run Centre in Guelph, Ontario–where Truscott resides–recently finished a three-week, near-full house run of Steven. Audience members included Truscott himself, former classmates and members of the community who recall the harrowing event from over 45 years ago.

“People said ‘I know that cop, I know that person,'” says Hobson of the audience reaction in Guelph.

He hopes what audiences will get out of his play is the stark realization how rocky our country’s justice system is.

“[The Ontario Provincial Police] have to admit a mistrial,” Hobson stresses. “They have to admit Truscott did not have a fair trial.”

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