By Nate Hendley
Beverley Cooper wrote “Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott” for the Blyth Festival, a well-respected theatre group based in rural Ontario. The play was performed at the Blyth Festival in 2008 and 2009.
A decade later, “Innocence Lost” has been revived for a series of stage performances by Toronto’s Soulpepper theatre company.
The play examines the wrongful conviction of small-town Ontario teenager Steven Truscott for the murder of classmate Lynne Harper in 1959.
Truscott spent a decade in jail and a lifetime fighting to clear his name. Truscott was acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeal in August 2007 and his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice.
I wrote about the case in my own book, Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice, and was very impressed by the play.
Here is a condensed transcript of an interview I conducted with Ms. Cooper:
Q. When you were doing your research was there anything that really shocked you?
A. I was shocked all along the way—all the little details adding up to this moment where we almost hung a 14 year old boy. What really interested me was the effect on the kids who would have been in the class with Steven and Lynne. You start with the microcosm—the kids and that social circle, then you move to the community, then you move to Ontario, and the OPP [Ontario Provincial Police] then you move across Canada and it’s rippled across the world, this miscarriage of justice. I find it really affecting and terribly sad.
Q. The play’s title, “Innocence Lost” is interesting. I got impression it referred to the lost innocence of the schoolchildren and the lost innocence of Canadian society.
A. When you think of  and that lovely June evening when all the kids are out playing and having a wonderful time and there’s this young girl, Lynne Harper, 12 years-old, found raped and murdered, everything changes. It changes for the kids, it changes for the community and it changes for Canada because everything was held in question. Our trust in authority: doctors, lawyers, the OPP, judges, the military—all of it is in question. I think before that time, while obviously not everybody, Canadians had a real trust in authority and I think we lost that with the Steven Truscott case.
Q. I liked how the play underscored Steven Truscott’s innocence but also showed how people could have honestly thought he was guilty. Was it difficult to do that balancing act?
A. I think that’s the role of the playwright. Good drama comes from trying to show multiple points of view from different perspectives. If I come in and just said, ‘He’s innocent and this is a terrible system’ it’s more like an essay. I always feel a playwright should pose a question and then seek to try to find out [the answer] in dramatic fashion.
Q. When you did your research, did you decide if there was main villain, per se? Some people say OPP Inspector Harold Graham was obsessively focused on Truscott and refused to consider other suspects. What’s your take?
A. If I was to say one villain, it would probably be Inspector Graham. He was under an immense amount of pressure to come up with a suspect very quickly. It was an unthinkable crime in a very rural, safe community and there was a real cry to catch whoever did this. And [Truscott] was the last person to see her … So I can kind of understand why Steven Truscott was a suspect but not to look at other suspects as well was really a mistake.
Q. Did you get to meet Steven Truscott?
A. He came to see the show when it was in Blyth, the first production. He was very gracious and very supportive.
Q. What message would you like play-goers to take away from “Innocence Lost”?
A. That we are human and humans are fallible and we need to be vigilant about our justice system and not take it for granted that everything is going to go according to plan, because it definitely won’t.
(“Innocence Lost” runs at the Soulpepper theatre until June 23, 2018. For details, click here)
(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based true-crime author. His book, Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice is available through Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters-Indigo, Barnes and Noble and publisher Five Rivers)