The Windsor Feminist Theatre’ production of Judith Thompson’s 2014 play about injustice in the Canadian prison system feels timely in an age where atrocities committed against people deemed subhuman by those in charge are in the news almost daily and suspicious deaths while in custody are being talked about more and more. Based on the real-life case of teenager Ashley Smith who died by her own hand aged 19 while on suicide watch at the Grand Valley Institution for Women. The guards had been instructed not to intervene and therefore watched her die without trying to help her.
Watching Glory Die is a very serious play.
It’s a serious subject and Watching Glory Die is a very serious play. In essence a series of monologues for three characters, Glory the prisoner, Rosellen her mother and Gail the prison guard, each one explaining their experience and views of the system that leads to the tragic ending. Each performer is confident and convincing in their roles, with Kelli Fox especially effective as the exasperated mother who did “everything right” when raising her daughter and can’t understand how things went so wrong. Both Kathryn Haggis and Nathanya Barnett are underserved with more thinly written roles. Haggis mostly serves as an expository device explaining to the audience how the prison system works and repeating the common refrain of good people doing bad things everywhere, that she was just “following orders”. Meanwhile Barnett has nowhere to go with a character whose mind is already broken when we meet her. It’s only in the brief moment where she performs a slam poem for another inmate that we get a glimpse of the girl she was before.
The limited interaction between the characters makes the staging static and the lack of dynamic leads to the performance feeling way longer than its 75 minute runtime. Thompson’s play is content to use its characters as mouthpieces lecturing the audience on the horrors of a system that lets these things happen, without providing any insight into how or why it became that way, or the people caught in it.