By Kathryn Helmore
VANCOUVER – On a dark November night in 1997, under the shadow of Craigflower Bridge on Vancouver Island, the unthinkable unfolded.
The murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk by two classmates was a senseless crime, altering perceptions of girl-perpetrated violence. Perhaps just as baffling was a beating of Virk at a party earlier in the evening, a beating uninterrupted by witnesses.
The inaction during the beating and the code of silence upheld for days following the murder highlighted our deference to mob mentality, and our willingness to sit idle.
Shape of a Girl by Joan MacLeod first graced the stage in 2001 as a response to the Virk murder. Telling the story of protagonist Braidie, who is witness to the hazing of her classmate, this award-winning production tackles the human propensity to be silent, paralyzed, or indifferent in the face of cruelty.
“In Shape of a Girl, Braidie struggles with her own inaction in the event of a classmate’s victimization,” says Shelby Bushell, director of Pacific Theatre’s rendition of MacLeod’s play. “This play is especially relatable as most of us have been a bystander at some point in our lives. It talks about the choice and consequence of doing nothing.”
The play tackles perceptions of femininity through diving into the brutality of the ‘fairer sex’ and asks some tough questions about identity.
“As a character influenced by the Virk murder, a phrase speaks to Braidie: ‘A girl in the shape of a monster, a monster in the shape of a girl,’” explains Bushell. “Virk’s murderers treated her like she was a monster, while in fact, they were the monsters. Through following our protagonist as she deliberates over whether to defend her classmate, the play asks a pivotal question: What kind of person do you want to be?”
Written 16 years ago for a high school audience, Shape of a Girl stands the test of time as the struggle against victimization is especially poignant given our social diversity and political division.
“It is our hope that the play will inspire our audience to be someone’s hero,” says Bushell. “I hope it will help us understand each other’s humanity and inspire us to compassionate action.”
Shape of a Girl runs at the Pacific Theatre from April 26 – 29.Pacific Theatre