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Iron Mountain Theatre is back, with a musical about...Mennonites and mafia?
Anyone who feared that Rossland’s Iron Mountain Theatre group was going to get caught in a snowy rut (or fall on their butts) after Ski Bum: The Musical can now exhale and rest easy. The group’s newest self-penned musical offering couldn’t be more different. From hedonistic skiers to religious Mexican gangsters, Mennonite Mafia: The Untold Story of Abraham Harms is a bold new step in a brand new direction for the troupe.
According to co-author RJ Peters, “Mennonite Mafia tells the real life story of Cuauhtémac Resident Abraham Harms, a practicing Mexican Mennonite. Abraham brought his family from Canada to Mexico to escape new laws from Canada that were not in line with his beliefs. Upon arrival, he discovers his new home of Chuatemac to be stricken by a longstanding drought.
“When newly founded trade relations between North America come to fruition, Abraham finds himself unable to farm or sell his handcrafted furniture across the border. With times as desperate as they can get, Abraham decides to team up with local drug cartel in the transportation of their goods across the border and forms the first ever: Mennonite Mafia!”
This week the Telegraph spoke with Peters about the new play.
Where on earth did you get the idea to do a play about the Mennonite mafia?
The idea for the show came about 8 years ago. I was sitting in my Grandpa's easy chair with nothing to do over the holidays and picked up the nearest piece of reading. It happened to be the Reader’s Digest. Not surprisingly as I think everyone in my extended family has a subscription. Normally I read the jokes and call it a day, but in this issue in large letters across the front was the title, “MENNONITE MAFIA?” Needless to say it intrigued me, and I was introduced to Abraham Harms--the first Mennonite ever arrested for drug smuggling.
As I read the article, which largely focused on one Canadian police officer charged with the task of bringing down this grass roots crime syndicate, I began to wonder what would make someone from a Mennonite way of life take such a drastic U-turn and become a drug smuggler--and not only that but pass the new family 'business' onto his sons, who remain to this day major players in Mexican organized crime.
Two years ago I was living the life of an in-and-out-of-work Toronto actor when old friend Jane Gaudet informed of a new project she was working on with Mark Pollard and Nadine Tremblay in Rossland. The project was Ski Bum:The Musical and without much persuading she convinced to move out to Rossland to tour the show with them for one year. I moved here and quickly fell in love with the town and soon learned about writers’ grants available from local arts councils.
It had been a long time dream of mine to write this musical, so I applied for 2 grants: one from The Rossland Council for Arts and Culture (RCAC) and one from The Trail and District Arts Council (TDAC). I asked Mark Pollard and Nadine Tremblay if they would write the show alongside me and 1 year later we are here--6 days from opening night!
What was the greatest challenge for you in putting this show together?
The greatest challenge for me personally was to make the characters real and loveable. From the beginning all 3 of us really wanted to present a family that was Mennonite but also like any other family. They had to be real and relatable to a modern audience. If we have succeeded in our task the audience should be able to go with the Harms on their journey from being simple carpenters and farmers to drug racketeers and understand their motivations and perhaps even agree with some of their decisions...
Is the play more comedy or tragedy?
I would say this play is perhaps more tragedy than comedy but that is not say that it is without humour. All 3 of the writers have tried their hardest to bring levity to such serious subject matter. However, we are dealing with Mennonite drug smugglers--so a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek, dark comedy and all-out silliness is par for the course.
As for its parallel, I can say it has been inspired by such great shows as Sweeney Todd and Blood Brothers. I have heard it referred to as ‘the Sopranos meets Little House On The Prairie’,. but as for a true parallel I can not think of one--which is exciting and a little scary at the same time.
What are your future plans for this show?
We want to take it to various fringe festivals next summer and see if we can generate some interest for it from other theatre companies
And what are IMT’s future plans at this point?
IMT has been very focused on this project for the past months and plans to take a break in the fall. No concrete plans for the future are in place right now but if there is one thing you can count on in the theatre business it is: Never say never and the future is always fluid!
Mennonite Mafia: The Untold Story of Abraham Harms plays on August 12 (Sunday) & 13 (Monday), 7:30 pm at the Rossland Miners’ Hall and August 20 (Monday) 8:00pm at the Warfield Community Hall.
Tickets are 15$ and are available at the Rossland Pro Hardware, by phone at 250-364-3823, or at the door before the show.
This project would not be possible with out the generous support of the following sponsors: Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance, Rossland Council for Arts and Culture, and Trail District Arts Council.
Original concept by R.J. Peters, Written by Mark Pollard & R.J. Peters, Music by Nadine Tremblay, Lyrics by Nadine Tremblay and Mark Pollard.
Live musicians (including banjo virtuoso Gabe Gaudet) and six professional actors all help to bring this exceptional story to the stage. Don’t miss out! Get your tickets today, this show has a limited engagement and is sure to sell out!