Victim Impact: an alienating take on a devastating crime

Rashida Samji (played by Name Kanji) takes a phone call in Victim Impact.

Nimet Kanji’s thorough, subtle performance is by far the best thing about Victim Impact. (Photo by Chris Randle)

I could see a couple of doors that promised access to Victim Impact, but I couldn’t open either of them.

This new documentary piece from Theatre Conspiracy explores the biggest Ponzi scheme in British Columbia history. Between 2003 and 2012, Rashida Samji, who is a former notary public, operated a fraud scheme that ripped off more than 200 people and involved over $110 million.

Throughout the evening, which is built on interviews, dramatizations, and verbatim transcripts, we meet: Samji; Arvin Patel, a former financial planner with Coast Capital Savings; and a handful of unnamed victims.

Nimet Kanji’s performance as Samji is hands-down the best thing about this production. It’s never really clear when her Samji is lying, but she is always emotionally credible—and, for a fraudster, that’s kind of the point. Kanji is a first-rate actor and she’s local. I’m shocked that I haven’t seen her onstage before and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

Munish Sharma is particularly strong when he’s playing Patel, and actors Jenn Griffin, Allan Morgan, and Risha Nanda all have their moments—mostly when they’re delivering monologues as victims.

I found much of the text dull, however, and much of the theatricality clunky.

Tim Carlson’s script is laden with financial and evidential minutiae. In one extended passage, for instance, the government Receiver and the Trustee, whose job it is to recoup some of the victims’ losses, give us reams of math, including a glib explanation of their own disproportionate fees. Director Jiv Parasram tries to theatricalize this data-heavy text by making the Receiver and Trustee into hucksters wearing sequined bowties, but the device of using carny-type characters to illustrate duplicity is a cliché.

Elsewhere, Parasram tries to enliven the script with images and sound. On the large screen that backs Joel Grinke’s set, text appears as if it’s being typed out in the present moment—often telling us if an upcoming scene is a dramatization or a direct transcript—and that typing is accompanied by rattling. But, again, this is annoyingly hackneyed—like a cut-rate version of the scene-change sound effects on Law and Order.

Now, I should probably acknowledge that I am never going to be a particularly receptive audience member for financial forensics. I pay close attention to money for about seven days a year, when I’m doing my taxes—and I can barely concentrate on it for that long.

The pal with whom I saw Victim Impact, on the other hand, was more engaged. A customer at Coast Capital Savings, he was seriously reconsidering his investments by the end of the evening, and he was outraged by the lack of oversight and fairness in our financial system—especially by the fees charged by the Receiver and his staff.

I could see that door—I could see the potential for engagement—but, try as I might, I couldn’t walk through it. It’s a matter of mental orientation: I’m much more of a story guy, but I couldn’t go through the story door with Victim Impacteither because it’s so tiny. Carlson gives us snippets of personal narrative from folks who were financially ruined, but he never allows any of those individuals a full or compelling arc.

Carlson’s script is heavy on numbers and on speculation about who’s lying and who knew what when, but it’s largely uninterested in emotional access. So, for me, Victim Impactdidn’t have much impact. If you’re closer to the events or if their abstractions intrigue you, this piece will probably work better for you.

VICTIM IMPACT By Tim Carlson. Directed by Jiv Parasram. Produced by Theatre Conspiracy. At The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Saturday, June 9. Continues until June 17.

Tickets.   

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get the best of my theatre writing, including my reviews, once a week, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.

 And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Leave a Reply

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!