Toronto theatre company developing play based on Russell Williams interrogation

Russell Williams play coming to Toronto

TORONTO — A Toronto-based theatre company is developing a play based on the intense police interrogation in which convicted sex killer Russell Williams confessed his crimes.

The One Little Goat Theatre Company plans to premiere “Smyth/Williams” in March, with an all-female cast that will alternate the roles of the interrogating officer and Williams through the performance.

The company’s artistic director, Adam Seelig, says he first got the idea for the play in 2010, when Williams’ case and his confession to Ontario Provincial Police Det. Sgt. Jim Smyth was making headlines.

Seelig says he was amazed at the time by Smyth’s ingenuity and chilled by Williams’ matter-of-fact confessions to heinous crimes — all strong material for a theatrical performance.

But Seelig says he only moved to make the play a reality after noticing what he called a recent urgency around the issue of violence against women, particularly against women in the military.

Williams, once a rising star in the Canadian Forces, was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010 after pleading guilty to the murders of two women — 37-year-old Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd.

The former commander of Canada’s largest military airfield also pleaded guilty to 82 fetish break-and-enters and thefts as well as two sexual assaults.

Seelig acknowledges that a play based on Williams’ confession to horrifying crimes deals with disturbing material. But he said current discourse around violence against women, and the recent dialogue around women’s rights in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, makes the play particularly relevant.

“Now is the time to look at what I will call truly tragic violence,” Seelig said.

“I would agree with the people who say it is hard, it’s heavy, it’s difficult, but it is necessary to look at it, to examine it, to raise awareness about it if we’re ever going to have any chance of understanding it and curbing it.”

The majority of the lines in the play will be taken directly from a transcript of Smyth’s interrogation of Williams, Seelig said, but the play will also incorporate dialogue that comes from some of Williams’ victims, which was played at Williams’ trial and is found in a book on the killer.

“The importance of that was to really contrast the matter-of-factness of Williams’ account of his crimes, the neutral almost emotion-free way in which he expresses them with the true horror that was perpetrated,” Seelig said.

Having the actors in the play alternate roles between Williams and Smyth was also a deliberate decision to ensure a single performer was not over-burdened by playing the sadistic criminal, Seelig said.

“For one person to take on Williams and to say what Williams says is almost too much for a person who feels deeply, and most actors do,” he said. “Part of it is to distribute the weight.”

Williams came under police suspicion in February 2010 after officers stopped him at a roadside canvass after Lloyd went missing. Officers noticed the distinctive tires on his Nissan Pathfinder, similar to the treads they’d found near Lloyd’s Belleville, Ont., home.

The military commander came in for questioning and eventually caved under Smyth’s masterful interrogation techniques.

In his videotaped confession, Williams admitted he started breaking into homes in 2007 to steal underwear â€” some from girls as young as 11 â€” which he wore while masturbating on their beds

Williams methodically chronicled and catalogued his crimes, shooting videos and still photos of himself in the act and amassing a huge collection of undergarments stolen from women and girls. Dozens of gruesome photos were shown during his trial.

The Canadian Forces stripped him of his rank after his conviction and, in a rare move, burned his uniform.

“Smyth/Williams” is set to hit a Toronto stage on March 3.

Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press