The Promise of authenticity
by Caitlin Murphy
I have often thought that the greatest existential torture I could ever experience would be false imprisonment. How would you possibly sustain yourself when your inner truth and imposed reality were so diametrically, diabolically opposed? The Third Eye Ensemble explores this very question in The Exonerated, a piece of documentary theatre by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. With a cast of 11, the play is a symphony of voices, and though it hits a few notes very well, the range is limited. What it does, it does quite well, but I don’t think it does enough.
“Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record,” The Exonerated, directed by Kent McQuaid, gives voice to six death row inmates who were eventually acquitted. Their stories of false imprisonment for the most specious of reasons serve largely as a history lesson in America’s racist, homophobic past. Third Eye Ensemble, founded primarily by recent Dawson and Concordia graduates, first presented this play last year in a limited sold-out run, and chose to do a full re-mount this year, in part to honour the script’s tenth anniversary.
The playwrights seem too reliant on documentary, and not invested enough in theatre.
The appeal of documentary theatre, of course, is its promise of authenticity. As an audience, we are granted rare access to the actual words of actual people who have lived through unimaginable ordeals. This can often lead to my beef with documentary theatre: very often the demands of the art get forgotten in the glow of authenticity. Blank and Jensen’s source material is indisputably fascinating, but the way they’ve edited and stitched it together isn’t especially innovative or unique. The playwrights seem too reliant on documentary, and not invested enough in theatre. And the production is a bit guilty of this itself.
Exonerated continues at Espace 4001 to December 2
Wednesdays to Sundays at 8:00pm
Reservations at (514) 710-4109 or firstname.lastname@example.org