Although there’s lots of gore, there won’t be blood spurting into the audience during the Whitehorse premiere of Timber Rabbits.
“They wouldn’t let me splatter it into the crowd,” said co-playwright Norman Easton.
The “terribly misogynist” play was written after a particularly rough breakup.
“I didn’t want to be around women,” said Easton who wrote the piece with friend Joseph Graham.
“It’s about a darkness in men’s hearts,” added Graham.
“Or the incredible lightness of living without women,” said Easton.
The all-male cast — directed by Mary Sloan — explores what happens to men without women.
“They’re savages — they’re babies,” said Easton.
“I think women have a civilizing influence on men in the most positive sense of the word. And left to our own devices, this is how we’d kind of end up.”
Set in 1930s Chisana, a tiny village in the Alaska/Yukon borderlands, Timber Rabbits is a historical myth.
An anthropologist and historian, Easton found himself researching the colourful characters in the borderlands.
“I was working with their descendants,” he said.
One book in particular, a memoir by Knut Peterson, who’d lived in the area in the 1920s and fell in with this crowd, struck a chord with Easton.
It was a typical Alaska memoir — the steamship ride, walking in from Valdez, bear encounters, prospecting — but there were these two anecdotal chapters, he said.
One was a tall tale about timber rabbits — six-foot bunnies that live in these Alaska/Yukon hinterlands.
The other was a story of a greenhorn that took off in the bush to prospect and returned half a year later, starved and crazy.
But up there, you don’t say someone’s crazy, said Easton.
“You say they have a magnetic personality that’s been affected by the Magnetic North, so they’re off balance.”
Easton shared these stories with Graham around a campfire one night, and he said, “Let’s write a play about it.”
The pair ended up entering Nakai Theatre’s 24-hour playwriting competition. But just before the event, Easton was called back to work in Beaver Creek.
Using the internet, the pair tried to work together for the first three hours of the competition, then the lines went dead and Graham was on his own.
Now, four years later, the script is almost unrecognizable.
Three different dramaturges looked at the script, but “they didn’t even bother to read it or think about it,” said Easton.
“All we got was a lot of hokey. They didn’t make notes, or mark it up — it was just feet up on the desk and them saying, ‘You need more conflict.’
“But people are getting chopped up, and shot at and beaten, so it doesn’t lack conflict.”
What is lacked was mutilation.
On an infamous snowy walk to buy smokes, Graham and Easton were taking a break from the script — frustrated by the “narrative arc,” a dramaturgical term Easton uses with a hint of disdain.
And on the way back, Graham stopped, turned to Easton and said, “What we need is more mutilation.”
“So we really went for it in the third act,” said Easton.
Although the play’s based loosely on historical characters, it’s a fantasy, he said.
In 1914, a surge of prospectors created Chisana almost overnight. The gold fever lasted one winter, with 6,000 to 7,000 people in the town.
The next fall only 10 people were left.
Timber Rabbits is the story of the people that stayed on, and why they did.
“It’s about men that travel to the North to escape civilization,” said Graham.
“But this small community of seven men start to bring in a hierarchy of social structures and end up running into what they ran away from.”
Easton, who came to the Yukon in 1986 to work as an anthropologist in small communities, has met the characters in his play many times over.
“And there’s elements of me in there, and the man I’ve grown up to be living life in the bush,” he said.
Frustrated by movies and stories written by urbanites about this rustic life, Easton used Timber Rabbits to give it an authentic take.
“You can imagine anything, and I appreciate that,” he said, mentioning tales like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series.
“But when it comes to a geographic location and the society that inhabits it, you can imagine it dead wrong.”
Easton’s job is to “get to know the communities and the people in them as best he can.
“And this really contributed to how I portray the characters in Timber Rabbits,” he said.
“It’s nice to share some Yukon stories, because there are so few told in this area,” added Graham.
The production does not address the influence of First Nation culture.
“Our theme is displaced people, and it would have felt a little cheap or hackneyed to have a First Nation counterpoint,” said Easton.
Instead, he’s already planning his next work — a libretto — to address some of these issues.
Graham and Easton want to draw in an eclectic crowd, that reaches beyond the regular thespians.
“We wanted to show theatre doesn’t have to be boring or inaccessible,” said Easton.
So he’s giving tickets to the Salvation Amy Shelter, Kaushee’s Place, the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and Yukon College where he’s arranging transportation.
“This is a play that I could see teenage boys taking their girlfriends to for the gore, men taking their wives to for the masculinity and women of all ages going for the cutting critique of the culture of men without women — and then talking about it afterwards,” said Sloan, when she first read it.
Timber Rabbits has its own brew, on sale at Coaster’s to help promote the production.
The funky, piratesque poster already peaked some interest.
“Someone wanted to start a punk band called Timber Rabbits and use our logo,” said Graham.
“I’d be honoured.”
Timber Rabbits opens tonight at the Legion Hall, and runs through November 29th, and then December 3rd through 6th.
Shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at Triple J’s, Arts Underground and the college bookstore.
Contact Genesee Keevil at email@example.com