By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — In 1959, Steven Truscott was sentenced to be hanged for the rape and murder of a young girl.
He was 14 years old at the time.
The Centaur Theatre and National Arts Centre present “Innocence Lost: A Play about Steven Truscott” by Beverley Cooper. The work is directed by Centaur artistic director Roy Surette and features the NAC English Theatre Acting Company.
“It’s a journey back in time looking at the story of Steven Truscott through the eyes of Sarah, a friend/bystander of the whole event,” said actress Jenny Young, who plays Sarah, the only fictional character in the work.
Making international headlines, the tale of young Truscott is considered one of Canada’s most controversial wrongful-conviction cases.
“Any of the literature that exists on the case shows that it’s an extraordinary miscarriage of justice,” Young said. “It’s just an embarrassment on the Canadian legal system.”
Because of the spotlight the case garnered, Young said, major and minor changes were made to the country’s legal system, specifically that the case contributed to the abolition of the death penalty in Canada.
Many minor changes were made, too, such as witness-identification procedures and methods for determining the time of death.
“Many little technical things,” Young said. “But it was the little technical things that ended up being major components that put Steven in jail. They fixated on the small things.”
Young said all of the evidence of the case has since been destroyed.
“There are a lot of theories as to what really happened,” Young said. “And the playwright is adamant that we don’t point any definite fingers at anyone else. Beverly feels that unless that person was put through the court of law then we have no right to say that that person did it.”
Young said one theory includes “a bit of a cover-up by the military.”
The story takes place on a Canadian army base with the young victim, Lynne Harper, the daughter of an officer; and Truscott, the son of a non-commissioned officer.
On stage, Young plays Sarah from the ages of 13 to 35.
“Which is great fun,” she said. “I get to do all the kid stuff. I have such a well-rounded journey.”
Sarah remains on stage, watching the events unfold. Her character acts as a gentle buffer between the audience and her on-stage counterparts, who are all based on real people.
“Sarah is allowed to go on that journey of thinking Steven’s guilty just as the whole town did,” Young said. “Except for Steven’s close friends, the whole community jumped on that bandwagon. They just wanted to get the guy.”
Young said the play serves as a reminder of always asking the right questions and not turning a blind eye.
“I really do wish the audience sees the sense of hope in this play because of how beautiful a man that Steven Truscott is.”
Truscott served 10 years in prison during his teens and early 20s.
“But those were his most formidable years,” Young said. “And even when he was in prison, anything you read about Steven is that he is the most kind, gentle, caring soul.”
In 2007, Truscott was finally acquitted of his crime. Truscott even got to see the play based on his early life when the work was performed at Ontario’s Blythe Festival in 2009.
“The festival is actually close to where it all happened, so many of the community came to see it,” Young said. “And I’m hoping he comes to this production. I would love to meet him. He’s a hero in my mind.”
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "Innocence Lost." WHEN: Continues through Sunday, Feb. 24. Most performances are at 8 p.m. Check website for times. WHERE: The Centaur Theatre is at 453 St. Francois Xavier St. in Old Montreal. ADMISSION: Adult tickets cost $47.50. Discounts are available for seniors, those 30 and younger, students and matinees. CONTACT: Call the box office at (514) 288-3161, or visit www.centaurtheatre.com.