Watching Glory Die: Incomprehension remains

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on November 17, 2015

Watching-Glory-Die-LRFredericton Theatre New Brunswick showcased Nova Scotia’s Mulgrave Road Theatre Production of “Watching Glory Die,” written by Judith Thompson, and inspired by the tragic story of NB teen Ashley Smith who died while in prison.

This one-woman show featured the very talented Stephanie MacDonald, who carries the weight of the show by playing all three characters highlighted by the playwright.

Glory is the incarcerated teen girl, Gail is the guard who works at the prison and Roseller is Glory’s mother.

MacDonald skillfully passes from one character’s monologue to the other in the blink of an eye. She was consecutively a creative and rebellious teen, a worried mother and a defiant guard and, showing her breadth as an actress, and was both distinct and believable as each protagonist.

Ashley Smith is a Moncton teen that committed suicide in the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, in 2007 while on suicide watch. As a young girl, Smith got in trouble for various minor offences and sentenced in juvenile court to detention at the New Brunswick Youth Centre in Miramichi, where her conduct, caused by a string of behavioural and personality disorders, triggered 800 separate incident reports against her and 150 attempts at self-harm.

When Smith turned 18, she was sent to adult jails and was transferred a total of 17 times from 8 institutions in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario.

Although the guards and their supervisor were initially charged with negligence in 2007, the charges were later dropped. Smith’s mother, Coralee Smith, sued the Correctional Services of Canada for wrongful death in 2009. The teen’s death was investigated by two separate inquests in 2011 and 2012.

The timing of the Fredericton play coincided with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s November 13th announcement that the Canadian government will move towards implementing recommendations from the Ashley Smith inquest, specifically the banning of long-term solitary confinement for federal inmates and not putting vulnerable prisoners in solitary confinement.

Playwright Judith Thompson’s interlaced monologues capture the essence of the tragedy that surrounds the teen’s death, even today. Central to the performance is the incredulousness from all the people involved, as to the reason why and how the system somehow failed Ashley Smith. Given this conundrum, Thompson’s only answer in the play is to accentuate the incomprehension of all involved: Glory and
Roseller wonder why Glory is in prison while Gail, the guard, wonders why she has this role. The bewilderment extends to the public’s reaction to the piece since it can but feel for all of the actors involved.

Although the play claims to be loosely based on Ashley Smith’s story, those familiar with the details of her death (something hard to avoid since it was in the news so often and into 2013), will appreciate the precision in Thompson’s detailed monologues, especially in the characters of Glory and Roseller.

Emmy Alcorn, who has been with Mulgrave Road Theatre for 18 years, directed the play. Along with being an experienced director, Alcorn is also an actress and singer.

Mulgrave Road Theatre hails from Guysborough, NS, a small town in the northeastern part of the province that is home to less than 1000 people. During the play’s Q&A on Thursday night (Nov. 12th), Alcorn voiced that she had first seen the play at a festival in Toronto where the playwright Judith Thompson herself performed the monologues, taking the stage for the first time in 35 years.

The teamwork of Tanner Welsh (set designer), Ingrid Risk (light designer) and Seven Naylor (sound designer) was key to creating the appropriate setting and transitions for MacDonald to play out the necessary roles. Welsh’s claustrophobic stark black angular stage was complimented by Risk’s light play (more natural for Roseller, while artificial for the jail) and Naylor’s perfectly-timed soundscapes and transitional sounds.

Theatre New Brunswick’s recently opened performance space at 55 Whiting Road, Fredericton, is small but cozy and suited the production of this outstanding production.

Sophie M. Lavoie covers arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.

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