Bessie-Jean’s Executing Justice is a timely examination of the direction Canadian society and its laws could go based on their current trajectories. Writer/performer Bill Pats goes a bit beyond the “social warning” nature of the show to explore the characters he’s created in more detail, and though this does muddy the basic intent a little (as far as I can tell), it does show the impossibility of justice ever being truly black-and-white, which is completely in keeping with the dark nature of the show.
Executing Justice is a cautionary tale, imaging a future where the Canadian justice system has reinstated capital punishment. The main character, Daryl Archibald Kane, is set to be executed just after midnight on April 8, 2030 – one hour from now. Kane sits in his cell, telling the audience about his life and how he came to be imprisoned and later sentenced to death. Through him and other characters that Pats embodies throughout the last hour of Kane’s life, we learn about the factors that lead a person who might otherwise have been a productive member of society down a path of crime and incarceration. By setting the play in the near-ish future, Pats makes a bold statement that Kane – who in the story was born in 2000, and therefore has not yet started on the slippery slope that will lead to his institutional murder – is the victim of social mechanisms already in place that, if not reformed, will lead to a fracturing of society between the haves and have-nots.
It’s a wide-ranging array of factors such as an overburdened foster-care system that puts vulnerable children in the care of abusive adults, an uncaring legal system that fails to take a person’s financial straits into account when slapping them with fines, a lack of comprehensive social assistance, an underfunded mental health system in Canadian prisons, the continued use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure despite its documented destructive effect on the human psyche, and the simple social paradigm that convicted criminals are somehow sub-human. Throughout Executing Justice all of these themes arise, and Pats ingeniously contrasts these to show that while there is no simple solution to all of these problems, someone has to make a start.
There are some weaknesses in the construction of this play: Pats does very well by using an almost agit-prop style to impress the social nature of this show, but towards the end he starts to explore other characters within the storyline that he weaves, leading to some confusion over whether the main thrust of this show is to tell a story or to impress a social truth. Overall, however, the impressing of a social truth comes out the stronger motivation, but the addition of the more narrative-related characters (such as the wife of Kane’s last victim) at least adds complexities to the story – murder is wrong, but even the worst of crimes can have its unexpected benefits.
Executing Justice exposes social and legal issues that are better known in an American context but nevertheless affect us as well. Though it is a serious reflection on a direction Canada could very easily take as a country, it is a much needed palatte cleanser amongst the plethora of comedic pieces at this year’s Fringe.
A Bessie-Jean production
Written and Performed by Bill Pats
At La Nouvelle Scène – Studio B (Venue 5)
Running Time: 60 minutes
Wednesday 14 June 10:30pm
Saturday 17 June 6:30pm
Sunday 18 June 4:00pm