Good Timber is primarily nostalgic
Created by the ensemble and music director Tobin Stokes. Directed by Ross Desprez. Produced by The Other Guys Theatre Company and presented by the Firehall Arts Centre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, August 8. Continues until August 19
Good Timber is a musical about logging, not about healthy erections, which clearly deserve a musical of their own. Despite this initial disappointment, Good Timber delivers an entertaining, though not terrifically substantial, evening.
A collection of songs and poems about life in the British Columbia bush, Good Timber is primarily nostalgic. In the poem “The Death of Rough House Pete”, the show acknowledges that a few doors away from its venue, the Firehall Arts Centre, discarded loggers are dying in flophouse rooms. But the poem isn’t serious; it’s a rollicking account of a badass backwoodsman and love gone wrong. Similarly, “Ballad of the Soiled Snowflake” takes a playful view of prostitution, and “When Snoose Was King” presents alcohol dependence as rowdily amusing. Injury and death get nods, as does ecological devastation. So Good Timber is a sugarcoated history lesson.
There’s no story and there are no ongoing characters or relationships, so there’s scarce dramatic or thematic accumulation.
But Good Timber is what it is, a folksy musical entertainment, and its execution is often excellent. The six singing musicians play a crazy variety of instruments that range from the predictable guitars and banjo to axe heads, files, and saws. Sarah Donald is terrific on fiddle. In a vocally strong company, Colleen Eccleston stands out with her playful ornamentations, as does Kelt Eccleston with his knee-melting lower register. Mark Hellman is a particularly strong performer: an excellent guitarist and charmingly dynamic actor. John Gogo looks shy on-stage, but the troupe’s eccentricity easily enfolds his quietness.
In its use of archival photographs and film footage, John Carswell’s visual design provides welcome historical grounding. As a British Columbian, I couldn’t help but be awed by the images of locomotives and trucks hauling mammoth logs and by the startling youth—and, in many cases, beauty—of the lads working in the camps.
Perhaps most importantly, the love many loggers had and have for the forests comes through loud and clear in Good Timber. In these ecologically dangerous and divisive times, that’s good to remember.