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Theatre & Performance No terror glorification here, just an unfortunate Pollyannaism

The play Homegrown is based on prison interviews conducted by playwright Catherine Frid with Shareef Abdelhaleem, a convicted 'Toronto 18' terrorist.

Summerworks.ca

2 out of 4 stars

Homegrown (a true story)

  • Written by Catherine Frid
  • Directed by Beatriz Pizano
  • Starring Shannon Perreault, Lwam Ghebrehariat
  • At the SummerWorks festival in Toronto

Stephen Harper, don't quit your day job. The Prime Minister may be a skilled political operator, but he's not much of a theatre critic.

Catherine Frid's Homegrown, which opened at Toronto's SummerWorks festival on Thursday, does not in any way, shape or form - in the words of a Harper spokesperson who had neither read nor seen the play earlier this week - "glorify terrorism." The lawyer-turned-playwright's "true story" of her friendship with a convicted "homegrown" terrorist does suffer from an unfortunate Pollyannaism, however.

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Homegrown is Frid's dramatized account of this year-and-a-half relationship with Shareef Abdelhaleem, one of the so-called "Toronto 18" who was arrested in 2006 and convicted earlier this year of participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion.

Follow Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck's blog here.

Ms. Frid began visiting Mr. Abdelhaleem, a former high-school student of her ex-husband, in the interest of writing a play about imprisonment. As she spent time with the computer engineer, however, she became his friend and ally - taking his collect phone calls, finding a home for his beloved cats and encouraging him to plead not guilty to the charges he faced.

Homegrown, in director Beatice Pizano's low-key and low-budget production, raises many worthwhile questions about the fairness of Mr. Abdelhaleem's arrest and trial: his long period spent in solitary confinement; the glacial speed of the wheels of justice; over-the-top secrecy that led to publication bans about publication bans; and, most troublingly, the prosecution's reliance on the testimony of a $4-million informant who admitted he bore a pre-existing grudge against Mr. Abdelhaleem.

While Ms. Frid's play left me concerned about the sweeping powers of the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, it didn't persuade me that Mr. Abdelhaleem is wrongly imprisoned.

It does, however, leave the impression that the playwright/protagonist is a gullible woman. Played with gradually receding shyness by Shannon Perrault, Ms. Frid at first believes that Mr. Abdelhaleem is completely innocent, and even compares him to Nelson Mandela. She eventually discovers the truth about his role in the terrorist plot, but she is only momentarily angry - she quickly seems to buy his story that he ultimately got involved so that he could make the attacks non-lethal.

Ms. Frid's Lebanon-born boyfriend Greg (Keith Barker) calls her a "classic Canadian, so naive" and criticizes her for being too close to Mr. Abdelhaleem. I agree - and that the play leaves room for that interpretation is a strength. Mr. Abdelhaleem, as written by Mr. Frid and portrayed by Lwam Ghebrehariat, is charismatic, but he's also slippery and unreliable.

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There are troubling gaps in the information Ms. Frid provides to the audience, however. Mr. Abdelhaleem's reported desire to make a quick fortune off of stock-market fluctuations with his advance knowledge of a terrorist bombing in Toronto goes entirely unmentioned, for instance. Homegrown would have been better if it was narrated from Ms. Frid's perspective in the first person - it was a mistake to present it as if it is an objective account.

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