BY GEORGE MARATOS
It is being described as Jack London meets Stephen King, an original northern mystery of man, murder, mutilation and mayhem.
It begins innocently enough with the lights dimming and Old Knut, an elderly man close to 90, appearing on stage, spit can in hand.
He moves slowly with an obvious shake, speaking softly, as he shares the story of the winter of 1936 when the young German kid went crazy in Alaska.
From there the play quickly transcends into a dark whirlwind roller coaster ride of bushed northern men and, before the audience knows what hit them, the 90-minute, three-act play is complete.
Along the way two fingers are lost, an ear is slashed and two of the cast are dead.
The audience is also fed … Timber Rabbit Stew, naturally.
The cancan girls may even perform during the break while live rabbits hop about.
Yes, it is safe to say Timber Rabbits is like nothing staged in the Yukon before.
For one, it is based on a true northern story.
It is also produced independently by local playwrights.
Timber Rabbits Beer is even being sold around town; Timber Rabbits Stew is available at Coasters.
And then there is the mutilation.
Al Loewen plays the part of Pete, the alpha-male of the pack, a Norwegian Jewish immigrant in his 50s, that everybody in Chisana looks to for answers.
For Loewen, the most experienced of the seven cast members, he says being part of Timber Rabbits has been the most fun he has ever had working in theatre.
“The story is great and the boys [playwrights] have done an excellent job of ensuring each character has their own story told.”
Loewen adds playing the part of a rough, foul-mouthed sourdough has also been a great challenge and really tested his acting ability.
“I really want the audience to believe I’m that kind of person.”
It is Pete who first introduces the audience to the Timber Rabbit.
“It is the secret to survival in the North,” he tells the young naive German Ben Mueller.
I play the part of Mueller, the so-called American that has come to Alaska to stake his claim and slay a Timber Rabbit.
Talking with an accent, learning German, losing a finger, going crazy and alternating my appetite … it is quite the contrast from my last role as Schroeder in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.
With an all-male cast, Director Mary Sloan is the lone female presence in the play, and it is a role she relishes.
“It’s hilarious and I love it,” describes the theatre veteran. “It’s been easier than I thought it was going to be and the cast is a riot.”
Sloan describes Timber Rabbits as a little wacky, a little bad and a little taboo.
“That’s why I liked it … it’s a great big whopper of a tale.”
“A rollicking fun fest with a little bit of blood … OK, a lot of blood.”
Sloan is also quick to admit some audience members might be put off by the unique and morbid tale.
“Hopefully someone will be offended, if no one is offended I’ll be a little disappointed,” jokes Al Macleod, who plays the parts of Old Knut and the Marshall. “The Marshall is a large psychotic cop and it’s a great part to play and not too much of a stretch.”
Then there is Will, the crusty gold-seeking sourdough.
A fugitive in his 60s trying to avoid the wrath of the Marshall.
Doug Rutherford plays the role.
He says it is an easy part for him.
“I’m a crusty old guy, so basically I wake up and get out of bed,” smiles Rutherford. “What drew me in is that it’s black but funny and a nice Northern perspective … that, and I’m a sucker for the word ‘mutilation’.”
One of the most motley of the eclectic cast of characters that make up Timber Rabbits is Pilot Michael, played by Mike Tribes.
Part pilot, part preacher and full-on alcoholic, is best how to describe the Pilot role.
Tribes is still undecided if he should take his two sons to see it.
Filling the role of Simon the Shopkeeper is Patrick Singh, the greenest of the cast, having never acted before.
A well-known percussionist in town, he says Timber Rabbits is opening him up to a different realm of creative self.
“I’ve gotten a new appreciation for acting. It’s very time consuming and a lot of work and not as easy as everyone thinks it is.”
Rounding out the seven-man cast is Braeden Trefry.
At just 18 years old, he is the puppy of the group, but not a rookie to the stage.
He worked with Sloan through the MAD Program and recently applied to the theatre program at York University.
Fittingly, Trefry plays the part of Knut, a young Norwegian kid who just wants to fit in at Chisana.
Speaking with fellow cast members, they all concur Timber Rabbits is both fun and dark and something that will leave audiences both entertained and shocked.
“I would describe it as a humorous macabre of every dark spooky play,” said Singh. “I think they’re going to like it but, if they don’t, we’re going to come visit them late at night and send Mueller after them!”
Timber Rabbits open at the old Legion Hall Nov.26 and runs until Nov. 29 and Dec. 3 to 6.
Tickets are available at Arts Underground, Triple J’s Music and the Yukon College Bookstore.