Theatre Preview: Jack and John went up the hill to rob the Group of Seven

By Fiona McLay

You can’t ask for much more in a play than sex, art, hockey and murder. Ground Zero Theatre and FireBelly Theatre team up to bring you ample proportions of all four with the world premier of Neil Fleming’s play John Doe/Jack Rabbit.

“I laughed out loud when I first saw the script and I read the whole thing at my computer in one sitting,” says FireBelly Artistic Director Abby Charchun, who also plays Vicki in the production. “As soon as I read it I knew I had to act in it.”

Though it sounds light-hearted the play is more multi-layered than one might realize, mixing a comical approach with dark undertones. John Doe/Jack Rabbit promises to be a complex production.

“The first act is whimsical, funny, relaxed, but then the darkness begins to weave in,” explains Charchun. “Everyone finds their own truth in the darker moments–this play digs deep.”

This comical thriller centres on Mike, a starving artist and amateur criminal. Mike and his lack-wit accomplice Gordie have been commissioned to steal a collection of paintings by the Group of Seven. When they have completed the heist they hide out in a supposedly-abandoned cabin their accomplice Poodge arranged for them. The cabin is home to Mae, a murderous hockey-loving granny. To further complicate the arrangement, Mike’s old flame Vicki arrives on the scene and a blizzard strikes, leaving the four entangled in a complicated battle.

To concentrate on her role as Vicki, Charchun had to relinquish much of the artistic direction to GroundZero’s Ryan Luthing. Charchun maintains the process did not lead to a power struggle.

“It was a test of wills,” she says. “But I had total faith in Ryan.”

In addition to cooperation, the play features many distinct Canadian elements through its focus on art and setting. The theme of hockey is also featured prominently.

“It is very hockey-intense with references galore,” Charchun explains. “It is definitely geared toward hockey fans.”

Though it has been a tough year for the non-profit FireBelly, with their primary donor passing away, Charchun’s spirits remain high.

“I am so blessed to be a part of this show,” she beams. “We all had such a connection with our characters and everyone has played such a special role. When you find a great one like this you run with it, it’s too bad it’s only five weeks.”

Coincidently, this year marks the 85th anniversary of the Group of Seven’s first exhibition. So if sex, art, hockey and murder sounds like the caper you have been waiting for or you’re a Group of Seven buff check out John Doe/Jack Rabbit.

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