Crime shouldn’t be this funny – a review of The Bad Luck Bank Robbers

Millbrook's 4th Line Theatre restages its production of the real-life 1961 Havelock bank robbery

Ken Houston, Paul Braunstein, John Tench, and Ryan Hollyman are The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, playing now until August 27 at 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
Ken Houston, Paul Braunstein, John Tench, and Ryan Hollyman are The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, playing now until August 27 at 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)

This month, 4th Line Theatre welcomes you back to Winslow Farm in Millbrook to witness the maddest manhunt ever to take place in The Kawarthas with a restaging of The Bad Lack Bank Robbers.

Directed by Kim Blackwell and written by Alex Poch-Goldin, The Bad Luck Bank Robbers tells the true-life tale of the 1961 robbery of Havelock’s Toronto Dominion Bank, as chronicled in the book of the same name by Campbellford-based writer Grace Barker.

Making its debut last summer, The Bad Luck Bank Robbers was an instant hit with audiences and sold out every show. Now audiences that missed it last year can see it for the first time, but those who enjoyed it last year will return to an even more high-energy production.

Once an obscure story from the past, The Bad Luck Bank Robbers resurrects this important piece of Kawarthas lore. On August 30, 1961, a group of thugs from Montreal known as the Red Hood Gang conducted a daring daytime bank robbery in Havelock, escaping with more than $230,000.

As a massive manhunt made international news, the gang disappeared into the wild before being capture days later near Coe Hill.

The play is based on the true-life story of the 1961 robbery of the Toronto Dominion Bank in Havelock (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
The play is based on the true-life story of the 1961 robbery of the Toronto Dominion Bank in Havelock (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)

However, upon their arrest one thing was missing: the money. To this day, the loot has never been found. Could it still be in the woods between Havelock and Coe Hill?

Although 4th Line is famous for mixing history with comedy and melodrama, The Bad Luck Bank Robbers is pure comedy from beginning to end. A combination of slapstick and intellectual humour, the play’s script includes local and national jokes that take stabs at politics, law enforcement, and small-town life, but also political and cultural jokes — such as the rivalry between French and English Canadians.

But the biggest joke of all is about hockey. The continuous hockey subtext running through the play is the show’s funniest cultural joke that will resonate with both hockey fans and people who don’t know anything about the sport.

The first half of the show focuses on the robbery, manhunt, and plight of the bank robbers (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
The first half of the show focuses on the robbery, manhunt, and plight of the bank robbers (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)

Paul Braunstein returns in the role of Jean Claude Lalonde, the good-natured lead bank robber who often breaks the fourth wall to make commentary to the audience. Immediately likeable — despite being fairly ruthless — Braunstein becomes the de facto stand-out character in what is a large ensemble cast. Lalonde loves the Montreal Canadians, hates the Toronto Maple Leafs, and isn’t afraid to use a gun if needed. Braunstein gives a spirited performance as this unlikely anti-hero in a true-life crime farce.

Ryan Hollyman also returns as Lalonde’s over-emotional partner Roger Martel. But in this year’s production, Braunstein and Hollyman are joined by newcomers Ken Houston as Yvon Lalonde and John Tench as Hermyle Lalonde. Together, the four create a tight-knit comedic group, filled with fast word play and physical humour.

While they are obviously terrible guys, the four bank robbers charm the audience because of their witty banter and otherwise good-natured personas. There are no shades of grey in their actions. These guys are lowlifes, but they are lowlifes of the most likable kind, offering a lot of heart and laughter.

Kait Dueck makes her 4th Line acting debut as bank teller Jean Kennedy, with Rob Fortin as George Milliken (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
Kait Dueck makes her 4th Line acting debut as bank teller Jean Kennedy, with Rob Fortin as George Milliken (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)

Possibly the most notable change compared to last year’s production is the deletion of the tragic romantic subplot between bank tellers George Milliken and Jean Kennedy.

Although the script remains the same, the actors currently playing the roles of George and Jean (Rob Fortin and Kait Dueck) have put an entirely different spin on it. Fortin plays his character as more of an obnoxious and awkward character, while Dueck’s character is potentially more dangerous than the bank robbers themselves. Trust me when I say I wouldn’t be on the wrong end of Kait Dueck’s Jean.

The deletion of the tragic romantic subplot doesn’t hinder the show in the least. Both Dueck and Fortin give memorable performances and play the characters much larger than they were presented before.

While the first half of the show focuses on the robbery, manhunt, and plight of the bank robbers, the second part of the show is a well-produced and funny courtroom drama. The robbers are now featured in the show’s vignettes instead of the townspeople.

Matt Gilbert returns as the robber’s lawyer Mirsky, and Justin Hiscox reprises his role as the magistrate. The two have a fantastic interplay together that keeps the show going, by presenting evidence, interrogating witnesses, and adding some more intelligent humour to the show.

Monica Dottor returns as the daffy diner waitress and audience favourite Abby  (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
Monica Dottor returns as the daffy diner waitress and audience favourite Abby (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
Monica Dottor, along with Kait Dueck (not pictured), also play prostitutes in one of the most hilariously awkward moments in the production (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)
Monica Dottor, along with Kait Dueck (not pictured), also play prostitutes in one of the most hilariously awkward moments in the production (photo: Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio)

The audience favourite again this year is Monica Dottor as the daffy diner waitress Abby. Getting the biggest laughs and applause of the night, Dottor plays Abby in three different vignettes that are easily the funniest of the show. Abby is so endearing that I believe an entire Canadian TV comedy series could be developed around this character. I see it sort of like Corner Gas, but in a remote diner. It would be comedy gold.

Dottor is an interesting actress who can do drama and comedy equally well. Audiences will remember her emotional role in The Hero of Hunter Street, but she does something completely different in The Bad Luck Bank Robbers. Abby the waitress became one of my favorite original theatrical characters after seeing last year’s production and I was most looking forward to seeing Dottor bring Abby back to the stage in this year’s show.

Also look for Monica and Kait doubling as a pair of French whores who visit the bank robbers in jail. It’s one of the most hilariously awkward moments in the production!

If I was asked to describe The Bad Luck Bank Robbers in a single word, I’d say “zany.” As enjoyable as it was last year, this year’s show is even bigger, funnier, and more larger than life.

But the mystery of the money still remains. Did anyone ever find the missing treasure? Could it still be in the wood or swamp? Is it gone forever? We’ll probably never know.

The Bad Luck Bank Robbers runs Tuesdays to Saturdays until August 27th at the Winslow Farm in Millbrook, with performances starting at 6 pm. For tickets, visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca.

All photos courtesy of Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio

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