Posted: Wednesday August 14, 2013
MacLeod’s Latest Play Addresses Police Brutality Toward Mentally Ill

A Globe and Mail article published yesterday (“Rewriting the tragic script when police confront people with mental illnesses ”) discussed the regrettable deaths of Sammy Yatim and Edmund Yu, observing that the Toronto Police Service has fallen into the “fatal trap” of “every so often shooting a mentally ill person dead in circumstances that cry out for caution and de-escalation.” The article concluded with a poignant analogy: “Death is not, or at least should not be, inevitable in these situations. These should not be akin to classical tragedies, in which each side plays out their role in the only way they possibly can. Dennis O’Connor [the retired Ontario judge appointed to do an internal review of the police shooting that killed Sammy Yatim in July 2013] needs to re-write the script.”

Writing scripts, in the literal sense, isn’t O’Connor’s bag, per se – but playwright Joan MacLeod (“one of the darlings of Canadian social justice theatre”) has in fact recently taken up this torch. Her latest play, The Valley (2013), explores just this kind of situation. Inspired by the 2007 Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport, The Valley dramatizes the often volatile relationship between law enforcement and people in the grip of mental illness, connecting both sides of this relationship by portraying two families embattled with depression, each guided by good intentions but challenged by their own flawed humanity.

The Valley is was first produced in March, 2013, by Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary. In a review by J. Kelly Nestruck, the Globe and Mail called The Valley “a subtle work that avoids all the romantic traps that typically ensnare those who write about mental illness. Focusing on two families, she takes a close, clear-eyed look at our society – one where individual rights and freedoms are constantly clashing with the desire to protect, at home and on the streets.”

And so the tradition of confronting social issues on stage continues, with the contemporary purpose of developing understanding and compassion.

Look forward to the published version of The Valley in Spring 2014!

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