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A police shooting in Montreal that drew protests and inquiry is portrayed on stage with no clearer reconciliation of facts and emotions.

Compagnie Porte Parole

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Fredy
Written by
Annabel Soutar
Directed by
Marc Beaupré
Actors
Solo Fugère, Ricardo Lamour, Nicolas Michon, Iannicko N’Doua, Alice Pascual, Joanie Poirier, Étienne Thibeault
Venue
Théâtre La Licorne
City
Montreal
Year
2016
Runs Until
Saturday, March 26, 2016

No one knows whether Fredy Villanueva got much of a look at the policeman whose gunshots killed him in a north Montreal park in 2008. The whole encounter lasted about a minute, from the moment Constable Jean-Loup Lapointe confronted a group of young men, allegedly about a minor bylaw infraction, till the time the 18-year-old Honduran refugee lay dying on the ground.

The consequences of that fatal minute are still reverberating in Montreal, especially in the racially diverse, economically depressed area where Villanueva lived, and where street protests broke out after his death. An 18-month inquiry into the events around the shooting concluded in 2013 that the teen died for no good reason, but also that his killer was no assassin.

Playwright Annabel Soutar has made a specialty of putting thorny, real-life stories on the stage, through a method she calls verbatim theatre. She researches like a journalist or documentary filmmaker, then assembles a script taken directly from interviews and documents.

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For Fredy, Soutar was forced to rely heavily on the records of the inquiry, because none of those present at Villanueva's shooting – including his brother Dany and several friends, as well as Lapointe and the female officer who worked with him that night – agreed to talk. The form of this French-language play is roughly that of a court procedural, laced with physical explorations of what happened in the park, pointed commentaries by sources named and anonymous, and accounts of Soutar's frustrated attempts to contact the principals in the story.

The stage is ringed with wooden folding chairs, as in a courtroom, or a theatre. Seven actors take on a shifting array of personae, some of them powerful, some of them not. Director Marc Beaupré's assignment of roles can be very pointed: Étienne Thibeault's main part is Lapointe, but he also plays the Surêtê du Québec detective sergeant assigned by the province to investigate his fellow officer's work. Alice Pascual plays a police lawyer whose hard-edged denigrations of the Villanueva boys and their actions finally drives their mother, also played by Pascual, to flee the courtroom in tears.

Soutar probes the unresolved questions in the case, and gropes around the mystery of how much of Lapointe's formal report, delivered a month after the incident, was itself a theatre script, shaped and edited by unknown hands at the police force. At regular intervals, we're reminded that this morass of conflicting accounts and unclear motives had a very definite result: The four shots fired from Lapointe's revolver.

Fredy is pressure-cooker theatre, of an intensity that recalls a much older style of non-verbatim play-writing. At Wednesday's premiere, the spectacle of these actors pacing around a legal process, clawing their way toward something akin to truth and justice, sometimes made me think of Twelve Angry Men.

But in that play, the final resolution is neat and clear, as it never could be in Fredy. Soutar's identification with judge François Perreault (played by Ricardo Lamour) is evident, but her attempt to glean the real story from all sides is no more successful than his was. She must conclude, as he did in his final report, that there were numerous "obstacles in the way of the truth," including differences in lived perspective that perhaps no amount of questioning could bridge.

To her credit, her script includes written complaints from the Villanueva family and its supporters about the direction of her inquiries, and her presumption in thinking that she, a publicly-funded white artist from Westmount, should be the one to tell and benefit from this tale. One of these missives, delivered near the end of the play by a member of the Villanueva support committee, cries Rashomon on the whole project, informing the playwright that "you might write a good story, but you'll never write the truth."

Nonetheless, Fredy is an arresting work of theatre that becomes all the more meaningful by exposing its own gaps and shortcomings. Perhaps its best result is that it reminds us, to paraphrase Socrates, that wisdom lies in understanding all the ways in which you are ignorant, especially of the reality of others unlike you.

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Fredy continues at Théâtre La Licorne in Montreal through March 26.

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