The director calls it a documentary on stage. But loved ones of the victims see the production of Smyth/Williams at Theatre Passe Muraille differently.
Tonight, performers at the Toronto venue known for provocative, alternative work will deliver, verbatim, part of the transcript of the police interrogation of murderer and rapist Russell Williams, which those close to the killings say disrespects the victims.
But is it art?
"There is nothing about this that speaks art to me," said Terra Dafoe, Jessica Lloyd's childhood friend, who is also a psychologist.
Dafoe grew up with the 27-year-old Belleville resident, who was killed in 2010 by the former commander of CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario.
Williams is considered one of the most heinous criminals in Canadian history. He pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, along with 86 other charges.
"If there's anything we should be giving attention to is to the life of Jess and the life of Marie Comeau or all the other women who were affected by him," Dafoe said.
She was enraged about the staged reading of the murderer's confession to OPP officer Jim Smyth and started a petition to stop the play, which about 2,000 people signed.
Aside from this action, Dafoe — like other friends and family of victims — tries to stay out of the public discourse, worried that talking about it might intrigue people to attend.
Activism outside theatre
But the psychologist is so bothered by the 90-production, scheduled to run March 3-12, she has decided to hand out pamphlets to theatre-goers on opening night tonight to remind them of the victims.
The statement is a reminder that her good friend was "kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered" by Williams and that the "disclosure of these details was a traumatic nightmare."
She learned of One Little Goat Theatre Company's plans a week before the seventh anniversary of Lloyd's death.
"Let's be clear, this play has not been 'written.' It is a VERBATIM [sic] reading of William's confession, including details and statements made by his victims," her statement reads.
Director Adam Seelig cast two women playing the parts of Smyth and Williams alternating between the roles, and they'll be joined by a drummer on stage to fill in censored gaps of the transcript.
Examining trauma in 'safe place'
Seelig said, "I'm not staging a conflict," the production was not meant as a provocation.
As in his work Antigone Insurgency, which the playbill described as "a radical post-9/11 reworking of an ancient masterpiece," Seelig wanted to start a conversation about a real life incident.
He said Smyth/Williams lacks sensationalism and is an "empathetic exploration that comes with a tremendous amount of sensitivity and humanity and compassion."
Seelig said it's timely to look at issues of misogyny and violence against women.
He was inspired to undertake the project in 2015 after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a report that said sexual misconduct in the Canadian military is "endemic."
In that same year, the director received a $10,000 Toronto Arts Council grant as a writer for a book of poetry and his company, which was established in New York in 2002, received $11,000 for a different undertaking in 2015.
As for the the current stage production, he said it's meant to examine a national trauma in a "safe space in which we can discuss."
Police against production
Insp. Jim Smyth, the widely celebrated OPP officer whose mastery in interrogation was credited for the confession, is the "Smyth" part of the transcript material.
Like the victims' loved ones, Smyth and the OPP decline interviews, in part because of the healing process.
However, Smyth and the OPP told CBC Toronto they are opposed to the production and Smyth fully supports the efforts of Lloyd's family and friends to stop it.
For all of them, including Smyth, the question of consent and trauma are at the core of the One Little Goat Theatre Company and Seelig's initiative.
"If you are trying to create art around this topic then you have to be considering these issues of consent and re-traumatization. And they are absolutely not considering these whatsoever," Dafoe said.
Dafoe, who has a photo of Lloyd in her bedroom, said Smyth reached out to her after he saw her online petition and until then she hadn't thought about the investigator.
"There are people behind these stories. There are loved ones," who she wished Seelig and those supporting the production thought about "when we think about crime and we think about these salacious stories."
While Seelig said he and the theatre company have responded to concerns like this, Dafoe said it's a "stock reply."
Tonight when she gives people her statement, the soon-to be first-time mom said she doesn't want more "rage" or "confrontation."
"I just want people to know how hurtful this is, how harmful this has been. And that when they walk in and witness this play, I really want them to hold us in their hearts — but more specifically, Jessica and the other women who were affected by Russell Williams."