Toronto

Victims outraged about staging of Russell Williams confession

As a production about the murders of Jessica Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau opens tonight in Toronto, those close to the victims are outraged and plan to do something about it.

Production debuts as those close to victims try to stop it

From the left, actor Deborah Drakeford, drummer Lynette Gillis and actor Kim Nelson are with the all-female cast of Smyth/Williams. (Yuri Dojc)

The director calls it a documentary on stage. But loved ones of the victims see the production of Smyth/Williams at Theatre Passe Muraille differently.

Tonight, performers at the Toronto venue known for provocative, alternative work will deliver, verbatim, part of the transcript of the police interrogation of murderer and rapist Russell Williams, which those close to the killings say disrespects the victims.

But is it art?

"There is nothing about this that speaks art to me," said Terra Dafoe, Jessica Lloyd's childhood friend, who is also a psychologist.

Dafoe grew up with the 27-year-old Belleville resident, who was killed in 2010 by the former commander of CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario.

Williams is considered one of the most heinous criminals in Canadian history. He pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, along with 86 other charges.

Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 38, left, and Jessica Lloyd, 27, were killed in 2010. Loved ones of Jessica Lloyd want to stop a play about the confession given by their murderer. (Canadian Press)

"If there's anything we should be giving attention to is to the life of Jess and the life of Marie Comeau or all the other women who were affected by him," Dafoe said.

She was enraged about the staged reading of the murderer's confession to OPP officer Jim Smyth and started a petition to stop the play, which about 2,000 people signed.

Aside from this action, Dafoe — like other friends and family of victims — tries to stay out of the public discourse, worried that talking about it might intrigue people to attend.

Activism outside theatre

But the psychologist is so bothered by the 90-production, scheduled to run March 3-12, she has decided to hand out pamphlets to theatre-goers on opening night tonight to remind them of the victims.

Let's be clear, this play has not been not written.- Statement Terra Dafoe plans to share with theatre-goers

The statement is a reminder that her good friend was "kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered" by Williams and that the "disclosure of these details was a traumatic nightmare."

She learned of One Little Goat Theatre Company's plans a week before the seventh anniversary of Lloyd's death.

"Let's be clear, this play has not been 'written.' It is a VERBATIM [sic] reading of William's confession, including details and statements made by his victims," her statement reads.

I'm not staging a conflict.- Adam Seelig , director of Smyth/ Williams

Director Adam Seelig cast two women playing the parts of Smyth and Williams alternating between the roles, and they'll be joined by a drummer on stage to fill in censored gaps of the transcript.

Examining trauma in 'safe place'

Seelig said, "I'm not staging a conflict," the production was not meant as a provocation.

As in his work Antigone Insurgency, which the playbill described as "a radical post-9/11 reworking of an ancient masterpiece," Seelig wanted to start a conversation about a real life incident.

He said Smyth/Williams lacks sensationalism and is an "empathetic exploration that comes with a tremendous amount of sensitivity and humanity and compassion."

Actor Deborah Drakeford, drummer Lynette Gillis and actor Kim Nelson will appear in Smyth/Williams. (Yuri Dojc)

Seelig said it's timely to look at issues of misogyny and violence against women.

He was inspired to undertake the project in 2015 after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a report that said sexual misconduct in the Canadian military is "endemic."

In that same year, the director received a $10,000 Toronto Arts Council grant as a writer for a book of poetry and his company, which was established in New York in 2002, received $11,000 for a different undertaking in 2015.

As for the the current stage production, he said it's meant to examine a national trauma in a "safe space in which we can discuss."

Police against production

Insp. Jim Smyth, the widely celebrated OPP officer whose mastery in interrogation was credited for the confession, is the "Smyth" part of the transcript material.

Jessica Lloyd in a family snapshot with her brother Andy Lloyd. (Courtesy Lloyd family)

Like the victims' loved ones, Smyth and the OPP decline interviews, in part because of the healing process.

However, Smyth and the OPP told CBC Toronto they are opposed to the production and Smyth fully supports the efforts of Lloyd's family and friends to stop it.

For all of them, including Smyth, the question of consent and trauma are at the core of the One Little Goat Theatre Company and Seelig's initiative.

"If you are trying to create art around this topic then you have to be considering these issues of consent and re-traumatization. And they are absolutely not considering these whatsoever," Dafoe said.

There are people behind these stories- Terra Dafoe , Lloyd's childhood friend

Dafoe, who has a photo of Lloyd in her bedroom, said Smyth reached out to her after he saw her online petition and until then she hadn't thought about the investigator.

"There are people behind these stories. There are loved ones," who she wished Seelig and those supporting the production thought about "when we think about crime and we think about these salacious stories."

While Seelig said he and the theatre company have responded to concerns like this, Dafoe said it's a "stock reply."

Tonight when she gives people her statement, the soon-to be first-time mom said she doesn't want more "rage" or "confrontation."

"I just want people to know how hurtful this is, how harmful this has been. And that when they walk in and witness this play, I really want them to hold us in their hearts — but more specifically, Jessica and the other women who were affected by Russell Williams."

Jim Smyth of the Ontario Provincial Police, bottom right, conducted an interrogation of Russell Williams running some 10 hours. (CBC)

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.

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