Partway through the process of adapting Eric Wilson’s 1976 novel Murder on the Canadian for the Capitol stage, Cedar Street productions’ Jeff Forst received a copy of the script with some tweaks and adjustments from an earlier draft. Wilson was soliciting his feedback.
“The ink was fresh on it, basically, and I was like ‘Eric Wilson is asking me questions about his material? This is surreal’,” said Forst, who is a long-time Wilson fan. “These are books I read as a teen, when I was roughly the same age my son is now.”
Which works out nicely, because Forst has cast his son Evan in one of the youth roles alongside his friend Tucker Bingham, who will play the kid detective Tom Austen. The two spend much of the play bickering while Austen tries to solve the case.
“I’m a kid from Winnipeg who wants to be a detective,” said Bingham. “We’re on this train having a good time and suddenly this lady, Catherine Sinclar, is dead. Then it’s about us trying to figure out what happened.”
Evan plays an abrasive sidekick named Dietmar Oban, and he told the Star he relishes the opportunity to play such an unlikable character. “I’m just kind of rude to everybody. It’s fun when you can be someone you’re not. You can be someone completely different than how you are actually, so in this play I’m a complete asshole.”
Forst said Wilson’s show has a universal appeal, and captures a nostalgic part of childhood.
“My brother is a teacher and he’s always loved the books. He was teaching them at his school when he heard from Eric, who had Googled Nelson Youth Theatre. It all came together.”
While Wilson worked away on the script, Forst met with him to talk through the logistics of telling the story onstage. One issue, for instance, was trying to figure out how to establish the train setting. And he knew the success of the show would hinge on the cast, and as it turned out he didn’t have to look far to find them. Both boys are Shakespeare veterans.
“Tucker and Evan, the two of them have worked together extensively and they have a real nice rapport. Once I got them I thought ‘hang on, we can do real justice to this’. When Eric sees it, we want him to be happy.”
Bingham stars in every scene, and carries much of the show, but he let the Star in a little secret: he’s written script prompts into his detective notebook, just in case.
“Tucker loves detectives, like Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes, so as soon as this role came up he jumped on it,” said Forst. “He’s got a great presence on stage, people are going to love it.”
Initially the plan was to cast the show with youth actors, but he ultimately decided to go age-appropriate for each role, enlisting local stars such as Sydney Black (who plays the murder victim), Darren Fuss, Eli Geddis and others. And they’re wearing some pretty wacky stuff.
“If people have lived through the ‘70s, this will be a throwback for them,” said Evan. “I mean, you wouldn’t see too many people wearing this shirt these days. It feels like Bollywood on a shirt,” he said, with a laugh.
Bingham’s mother Kyla Hurst, who did the costumes for the show, also stars as a character called The Cookie Woman.
“Kyla getting to be in the play and doing the costumes is fun because she really loved the books beforehand, and she’s so excited because Eric Wilson is actually coming to the show,” said Forst.
Wilson will be in the audience opening night with his wife Flo. He will then do a subsequent reading at Otter Books on October 25 at 11 a.m.
Forst said those who have read the book may be surprised by some of the changes.
“There’s a few wrinkles in there for people who already know the story, in this case a few different characters survive who don’t in the book.”
This is the second Nelson theatre mystery production, after Lucas’ Myers’ recent show Campground. Forst said that came about by coincidence.
“We found out about Lucas’ show while we were rehearsing and though ‘what are the odds of two murder mysteries developing independently of each other’. Then we just embraced it.”
Murder on the Canadian will be at the Capitol at 8 p.m. on Oct. 22, 23 and 24. It is suitable for all ages.
Watch out for an upcoming interview with Murder on the Canadian author Eric Wilson, coming soon.