As of January 7, 2013, this website will serve as an archive site only. For news, reviews and a connection with audience and creators of theatre all over the country, please go to The Charlebois Post - Canada.

Search This Blog

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Exonerated

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.  

Here’s the thing:  miscarriages of justice are harrowing by nature, easy to get rankled by.  And the death penalty, especially to most Canadian minds, is abominable.  But indignation is a difficult reaction to sustain.  There is only so much head shaking, tut-tutting and general grumbling an audience can muster, before they wish to be taken other places, feel or think other things.  A certain even-ness to this long one-act, a sort of uniformity in topic and tone, created an odd lack of tension.  Greater shaping and structure, in both script and production, would have added fuel to the hour and 45 minute journey. 

Though the acting was quite consistently strong it sometimes dipped into caricature or drifted towards capital ‘a’ Acting.  Delivery was actually most riveting when it was spare and unadorned  (making me wonder if this script might be best served by a reading).  Some instances of actors being ‘aged up’ – through greyed hair, costume choices – confused the time frame a bit, and also encouraged a few moments of false or strained delivery.  I was also left wondering about the potential benefits of a tighter ensemble, a smaller cast.  Seeing the actors playing the accused/exonerated multiply cast in the roles of ‘the law,’ for instance, might add interesting texture and complexity.  There were certainly some standout performances:  Raphael Grosz-Harvey shines in a soulful performance as Kerry Max Cook, as does Bineyam Girma as the straight-talking Robert Hayes, and Mikaela Davies, in two nicely under-stated and distinct performances as wives of the exonerated.

Re-mounting this play in part because it’s celebrating its 10 year anniversary begs that old question of relevance – why this play?  why right now? – a bit more forcefully than usual.  Despite the Third Eye Ensemble’s genuine and impassioned efforts, I’m not sure the evening offered a compelling answer. 

Exonerated continues at Espace 4001 to December 2 
Wednesdays to Sundays at 8:00pm
Tickets: $15
Reservations at (514) 710-4109 or

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please read our guidelines for posting comments.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.