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MTYP offers Tough Case for restorative justice

Posted: 11/23/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0


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In Tough Case, the new David. S. Craig teen play, a trio of punks break into an old woman's home looking for alcohol. When they don't find any, they inflict disturbing property damage.

The victim, Grace, discovers her glass keepsakes smashed, the word DEATH spray-painted on a wall and knives stuck into the eyes in all the family portraits.

Dane, 16, is charged with the appalling rampage; the resolution through the process of restorative justice is played out onstage in Tough Case, a Manitoba Theatre for Young People production currently in the middle of a provincial school tour.

The central event is a meeting between Dane and Grace's son (she is too traumatized) where it is hoped that through restorative justice, offenders will take responsibility for their actions and the victims get to give voice to their pain in the hopes of mutual reconciliation.

"It's a courtroom drama without the courtroom," says Craig, the Toronto playwright, who is presenting his sixth work at MTYP. "It has all the elements you would find in a Perry Mason episode or Street Legal."

Craig, 60, was commissioned to write Tough Case in 2009 by Jennifer Llewellyn, who is the director of the Nova Scotia restorative justice program. His research included talking to all participants in the criminal system; he came out quite convinced of the value of restorative justice.

"I would go as far as to say restorative is an evolutionary step forward in the way we view each other and how we resolve the cases of people who have been charged with offences," says Craig, who also penned Having Hope at Home, which was staged at Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2008.

Nova Scotia has the largest restorative justice system in North America and allows its use for any young offender between 11 and 18. Based on about 1,200 cases a year in Nova Scotia, the percentage of recidivism has decreased.

Craig thinks it is a better alternative that the current federal government's plan to build more prisons, which he says is expensive and does nothing to decrease the rate of the convicted returning to criminal behaviour.

Tough Case was targeted at high school students because it was felt that this is the part of the population where it would have the most impact. If young people were introduced to the concept of restorative justice early, they would have a lifetime of understanding of how the system works, says Craig, who is in Winnipeg ahead of the two public shows, Friday and Saturday, at the Shaw Performing Arts Centre.

The hour-long drama toured Nova Scotia in 2011 and Ontario schools earlier this year. While in Ontario, a couple of performances were arranged in prisons before captive audiences.

"What they said is that they wished someone had spent all the time with them the way this restorative justice worker had spent time with Dane," says Craig, who is writing a new musical about thrift involving four women looking for a new life and a new wardrobe at cut-rate prices. "Another guy said that he had done break-and-enters all his life and until that moment (in the play) had not thought what it meant to the victim. He said, 'Why did you have to make her such a nice old woman? I won't be able to do break-and entering again.'"

Over his 30-year career Craig has penned many issue plays, including Danny, King of the Basement, which explores homelessness. Many of the them were initiated by commissions, which can be touchy enterprises, especially when the money is not coming from a theatre. He has been down dead ends with commissions before.

"I remember getting a lot of money from CPR to do a history of the railroad and discovering that I could not put the Rocky Mountains onstage," he says. "I ended up (using) the Métis, who were driven from their land, and I lost my grant. I had to make it a play, but they didn't like it."

Craig hopes that Tough Case has a future -- but that's probably only the case if restorative justice has one.

"I think people are slowly waking up to the common sense of it," he says. "I hope in 20 years that restorative justice becomes a much more common option in the criminal justice system and that my play is read and performed at conferences and schools as way to illustrate it."


Theatre preview

Tough Case

Manitoba Theatre for Young People

Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $16.44 at 204-942-8898

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 D3

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