Detailed Synopsis (Spoiler alert)

Detailed Synopsis (Spoiler alert)


            1956: The body of a man that at first appears lifeless suddenly awakens. He (“the Body”) is aboard a ferry approaching Victoria, B.C. He writes cryptic notes inside a small book—the cipher, “a mysterious code that [on stage] is always physically present but not seen unless illuminated.” After disembarking the ferry, he is trailed by the Agent, an equally shadowy figure. Later, with the Agent in tow, the Body arrives at a small house and knocks on the door. No one answers, but for a moment, a woman (“the Nurse”) appears in silhouette behind the curtain. The Body leaves; attempting to shake off the Agent, he runs. He places the book in a mailbox, and then hides on the beach. After lighting a cigarette and taking a few drags, he slumps over, apparently dead.

            In 2019, this still unsolved case—“the Beacon Hill Body”—is described by a university professor, Grace, while delivering the opening lecture for her Introduction to Toxicology class. Grace lingers over the many odd details of the case—including the cryptic messages written in the book and the book itself, an English adaptation of a Persian poem called the Rubaiyat—but suggests, finally, that toxicology offers the only real hope of ever getting to the bottom of it. After the lecture, she is approached by Aqeel, who asks her to meet with him. After he assures her that he is not actually her student but was just sitting in on the lecture, she agrees to meet at a restaurant. Aqeel is fascinated by the Beacon Hill Body case, and pitches his theories to Grace. He suggests that the man, a spy, was visiting a secret lover in Victoria. Grace is intrigued, but skeptical. As they chat, a mutual attraction develops between them; after leaving the restaurant, they go to her apartment, where they make love. The next morning, Grace is up early studying her copy of the Rubaiyat, trying to decode the cipher. Aqeel is amused that Grace, despite insisting that the cipher is a red herring, is nevertheless attempting to crack the code. He suggests using a computer to compare the letters in the cipher to the text of the Rubaiyat. Over the days that follow, Aqeel and Grace collaborate in investigating the case, while their romantic relationship deepens. Aqeel confides in Grace that the “secret lover” might have been his grandmother, and his mother might have been the love child that resulted from the affair. He tells her that his grandmother mentioned some details related to this case before she developed dementia and passed away. As Aqeel and Grace speculate about possible scenarios, the Body, the Nurse, and the Agent play out these scenarios in the background—suggesting, perhaps, that Aqeel and Grace are onto something?

            Grace and Aqeel meet with Aqeel’s mother, Emma, at his grandmother’s house—the Nurse’s house from the initial enactment of the 1956 story. Grace spots a copy of the Rubaiyat, and finds cryptic notes written in the inside cover. The letters written here seem to correspond to a passage from the poem. Later, Grace and Aqeel realize that the codes inscribed in the two copies of the Rubaiyat refer to other books as well, and thus try to expand their search to as many pre-1956 books as possible. While this is feasible, Aqeel explains, it will require much more computing power; they will need to use a botnet (an Internet-connected device which can be used to steal data), which he admits is “not super legal.” As the botnet gets further along in its search of the massive text-base, the Body approaches the Nurse’s door, with the Agent observing his actions. Suddenly, Aqeel notices that all of his Facebook photos are gone and his username is different, which he perceives as a “warning shot” from some government agency. Frightened, he tells Grace that he will need to shut down the search program. After he leaves, however, Grace re-activates the search. Suddenly, there is a knock on her office door…


            At Grace’s door is Clive, an agent of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He asks her questions about her academic research and her relationship with Aqeel. Though his demeanor is friendly, Grace is clearly feeling tense. Later, she meets with Aqeel, tells him about the CSIS agent coming to her office, and admits that she re-activated the search program. Aqeel is worried, but reluctantly agrees to continue investigating the case. Meanwhile, the Body, the Nurse, and the Agent continue to shadow the contemporary action, playing out scenarios while the search program races through data at a rapid rate.

            Grace offers Aqeel a drink, but he tells her that he does not drink alcohol because he is an observant Muslim. She is surprised by this; she thought he had drank something alcoholic at their first meeting, at the restaurant, but he tells her it was club soda. Later, after Grace finishes a lecture, Clive returns and is more serious this time, asking personal and specific questions. He warns her that what she’s involved in is “very, very dangerous.” Later, Aqeel tells her that he was fired from his job, and his boss won’t reply to his text messages. She offers to let Aqeel move in to her place, but he declines her offer out of concern for how his family would react. She tells him she loves him, but he says that because they’re not yet married, they shouldn’t jeopardize their possible future by moving in together now. He also suggests that for them to marry she would need to convert to Islam. Grace is resistant to this idea, insisting that she’s “not religious at all.” Breaking this tension, they kiss, but then Grace’s phone rings. It’s Clive, who instructs her to check her computer to see whether it’s running one of several programs. One of these does indeed show up in her search, and Clive tells her to turn off her computer immediately and to meet with him. When they meet, Clive explains that the program she detected was a tracking program, which, he suggests, was installed by Aqeel to monitor her activity. Her meeting with Clive plays out simultaneously with a subsequent conversation with Aqeel, in which Grace confronts Aqeel about the tracking program. He admits he installed it so that he could remotely shut down the program if anything went seriously wrong. Clive tells Grace that Aqeel was charged in 2014 with crimes related to computer hacking. When she mentions this to Aqeel, he is offended, and tells her it was simply for hacking into his school’s system to change a friend’s grade. He says that the authorities have harassed him and his family ever since he and Grace started running the search program, and angrily leaves her apartment. The computer search is now at 94 percent, yet still no matches…

            Clive comes to Grace’s apartment. When she mentions the Beacon Hill Body case, Clive reacts with surprise, as if he genuinely has no idea what she’s talking about. Looking around her apartment, he is perplexed by the many materials relating to her research on the cipher. He tells Grace that they have Aqeel in police custody for “hacking, cyber espionage, conspiring to participate in or contribute to a terrorist group,” and asks for her help in building the case against Aqeel; Grace is shocked by this. Weeks later, she meets again with Aqeel. He tells her that he was held by the police for three days, but was released after Grace explained what they were actually doing—trying to solve a decades-old cold case, nothing related to terrorism. Still, he thinks he will be charged with hacking crimes. She tries to offer help and to apologize for what’s happened to him, but he tells her to leave him alone. He leaves, followed by the shadowy figure of the Agent, and Grace is left alone. She breathes heavily, her breaths in unison with those of the Body, as the play ends.


By Ellen Close and Braden Griffiths
February 6—March 7
Granville Island Stage
After 63 years, the Beacon Hill Body remains a Vancouver Island cold-case murder. Forensic toxicologist Grace Godard thinks her scientific expertise is leading her close to an answer, closer than anyone has come before. But when she meets Aqeel Saleemi, a young man with a personal stake in the mystery, their efforts to crack the case have consequences neither of them imagined. This theatrically innovative and exhilarating world premiere will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Buy Tickets From $29
Posted on 18th Dec 2019