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Play brings forth restorative justice issue

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A travelling production hopes to get people talking.

Forgiven/Forgotten, written by Toronto-area playwright Johnny Wideman, will be performed in the province 10 times from May 9 to 15 by the Theatre of the Beat troupe. The run includes a May 10 performance at Douglas Mennonite Church at 1517 Rothesay St. at 7:30 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Wideman, who also acts in the play, said the play was commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario to tackle the theme of restorative justice after he pitched it to them.

He said the plot of the play follows residents who find out a man is set to serve his parole in their community — and follows their responses to him.

"We always take on social justice themes, and our aim is to get people thinking and be empowered to care about whatever topic we’re taking on," said Wideman, a Stouffville, Ont. product who said the federal government’s institution of mandatory minimum sentences and building of more penitentiaries nudged him to write the play.

Wideman said justice issues are complicated ones, noting the play doesn’t so much draw conclusions as much as it presents the issue.

In addition to a handful of public performances, the troupe is taking the play into penitentiaries across the country, including one at Winnipeg Remand Centre on May 12. There is a discussion of the play held after each performance to talk about the ending, which Wideman said can be "bothersome".

"The hope is to engage every form of the community that is affected by crime," he said.

"We’re looking at trying to engage victims of crimes, and the communities that feel the rippling effects of crimes, but we’re also trying to get offenders and people who have been affected by crime in that way to be thinking about it."

Local Mennonite Central Committee peace program co-ordinator Steve Plenert said he’s been familiar with the troupe for years, and has been impressed with its work. He said though the group comes from a Christian perspective, it is accessible to all.

"They don’t proselytize or play the faith card as their main thing, but they are clearly coming from a Christian faith perspective and working at issues from that end of things," he said.  

For more information on the production is available at http://forgivenforgotten.wordpress.com

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