Written by Tim Carlson. Directed by Jiv Parasram. A Theatre Conspiracy production. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Saturday, June 9. Continues until June 17
“What would be meaningful? An exposé.”
This is a quote taken from an interview with one of the victims of Rashida Samji, the Vancouver-based “Magic Lady” who spent 10 years delivering her clients ridiculously high returns on their investments. In reality, Samji was more about illusions than magic, running a $110-million Ponzi scheme that scammed strangers, friends, family, and her Ismaili community. The facts and fallout of Samji’s crime provide a compelling premise for Tim Carlson’s ambitious but uneven new play, Victim Impact.
Part investigative documentary and part dramatization, Victim Impact fuses court transcripts, research, interviews, testimony, and news archives, among other sources. These are peak true-crime times, and every true-crime fan knows it isn’t about the blood or the body count, but rather the violation and the emotional carnage. A perpetrator and a victim. Or hundreds of victims, in Samji’s case. Yet Victim Impact establishes from the outset that this is not simply a condemnation of Samji. In the six years since her deception came to light, Samji’s victims have hit wall after wall in their pursuit of restitution and justice. Carlson’s script makes it painfully clear how, arguably, various institutions, banks, and legal systems not only failed to protect Samji’s victims, but actually inflicted further damage after the fact.
It’s easy to see the trifecta of greed, capitalism, and complacency that made Samji’s Ponzi scheme possible. But Carlson reminds the audience that money isn’t just power, it’s also safety. Important acknowledgments of the class differences among Samji’s victims help the audience better understand the real, human consequences of this crime. Despite these moments of connection, Victim Impact never quite comes together. Tonally, it’s occasionally jarring, jumping from re-creating courtroom scenes to a fantasy sequence in which the historical legacy of the word Ponzi is explained. Even though the real-life details of the case are fascinating, the play drags. It would be worth reassessing and tightening up almost every instance wherein dialogue is sourced from court transcripts.
The staging, sound design, and visuals often distract from the action rather than complement it. For example, during each new scene, text is projected above the stage and each letter is accompanied by a “typing” audio cue. It happens a lot—too much—throughout the play. The five-person cast is also, collectively, a bit stiff. Perhaps it’s because a lot of the text is taken from transcripts and sworn statements. But all of the characters, even Samji (Nimet Kanji), deserve richer development. Victim Impact has all the source material it needs, but it could benefit from spending a little more time cultivating clarity in its own voice.