Forgiven/Forgotten

Bringing Restorative Justice into Focus

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

Before learning of this play, I wasn’t aware of Restorative Justice Week, held on the third week of November in Canada.  Now I realize how much restorative justice touches us all: in the news, in our lives, in our families.  Its exploration falls under the mission statement of Theatre of the Beat (TOTB), “a Canadian touring company working to catalyze conversations on social justice and its intersection with the beliefs of the communities in which we find ourselves.”  Forgiven/Forgotten does a great job of clarifying what restorative justice is, and has a commendable script, but only offers a hint of a resolution, leaving it to a subsequent discussion panel.

Phil, a husband and father, is released from prison after four years.  His wife Robyn has been coping as a single mother and breadwinner and has reached out to her church for support.  She befriends Mary Anne and her husband Richard, who are unaware of Phil until shortly before his release.  Mary Anne has been a victim of a break-in and learning about Phil distresses her, yet she still manages to supress her concerns enough to invite Robyn and Phil to dinner.  Richard, aware of Mary Anne’s reservations and anxiety, informs her that Phil will not be welcome at their church, though he agrees to hold the dinner as planned.  When the wine is served, it stirs up emotions in Phil and Robyn, and the host couple offer their support.  The wine is deeply symbolic, something which is explored throughout.

This is primarily an audio performance, though clever graphics keep the focus.  The cast consists of professionals, including P.J. Prudat, whose numerous accomplishments include company actor at Shaw Festival.  Frank Cox-O’Connell, an award-winning actor and theatre director, plays Kristian on the CBC comedy Strays.  

Forgiven/Forgotten leaves much unresolved, necessitating the discussion panel that follows.  And that seems to the intention, to spark further dialogue. In the play, Mary Anne, despite her post-traumatic stress, is on the right track, attempting to open a dialogue to help resolve her personal issues and learn more about Phil.  The panel, which includes someone who had been incarcerated and others who have worked in community support, offers education, support, and hope.

Still, Forgiven/Forgotten has the potential to be developed further to address some of the complex issues it raises.  Wine is used as a strong symbol of regret and remorse throughout the play, and wine is also a part of communion, so it could be demonstrated how the symbol evolves.  At just under an hour, there is time to expand the script, and the playwright, Johnny Wideman, has the talent to do it.  But if the purpose is only to catalyze conversation, as per TOTB’s mission statement, this is certainly achieved.

In the Toronto or Kitchener-Waterloo area, in-person screenings are available, and you will be able to be part of the conversation.  For those who cannot travel, there is a YouTube audio/visual presentation but be sure not to skip the panel discussion.  We are all affected by these issues it is helpful to learn more about the experiences of criminalized individuals and the assistance offered by restorative justice professionals and volunteers.

Forgiven/Forgotten is available at Danforth Mennonite Church, Toronto on November 27, and the Princess Twin Cinemas, Waterloo on December 1st and 2nd.   For tickets, go to www.theatreofthebeat.ca   Available on YouTube November 26-28.

Forgiven/Forgotten
Written by Johnny Wideman
Directed by Erin Brandenburg
Produced by Cedric Martin
Performed by Peter Fernandes, Christina Leonard, Zach Parsons, P.J. Prudat, Zach Parsons
Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum, Nov 19-21;
Danforth Mennonite Church, Toronto, Nov. 27;
Princess Twin Cinemas, Waterloo, Dec. 1-2;
YouTube, Nov. 26-28
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

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