Sunday, October 16, 2005

Canada's greatest crimefighting, nazi-busting hero ever

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (1996 Toronto), I played a very very small role in a production of Julius Caesar. How I got involved in the show isn't important -- the usual sort of actress-lives-upstairs-introduces-you-to-friends routine, coupled with a drunken offer to take a role while at a party. What is important is that it got me back into theatre, which I pursued with gusto once I got to Western.

What is also important is that out of its rather large cast and crew, I made one friendship that endured. I didn't quite appreciate at the time what a bad show it was (merely being excited to be back on the stage), or for that matter how exploitive a four-week run with two matinees a week was of upaid actors (while I was doing my MA, no less) ... but it was a positive experience if for no other reason than I made friends with a guy named Gregg Taylor, with whom I've kept in sporadic but generally consistent contact over the past nine years.

Gregg is one of those guys who can actually write with wit, humour and intelligence, and to my mind his greatest invention has been a radio-play titled The Adventures of the Red Panda--a six-episode series in the tradition of The Shadow whose hero is the titular Red Panda: Canada's greatest crime-fighter from the 1930s who has been drafted into the military as an uber-secret agent.

The brilliance of the series lies in taking the typical American war-movie perspective--i.e. that the US was the only country who actually fought WWII--and doing it from the Canadian perspective, where we Canucks are the vanguard in the fight against the Nazis and other allies mere hapless hangers-on. The series features such memorable characters as Baboon McSmoothy, the Red Panda's Austrailian sidekick; Prime Minister Mackenzie King, reduced to gibbering infantilism by a German Insanity Ray; his dog Sparky Fitzking, now the actual leader of Canada's war effort; Baguette of the French Resistance; and a host of wonderfully villainous Nazis.

Leaping into the 21st Century, Gregg and his group, Decoder Ring Theatre, are now offering the Red Panda as MP3 downloads and podcasts. I highly recommend a listen ... I first heard then five years ago after they were first recorded, on a couple of cassette tapes Gregg gave me which I circulated as widely among friends. And at long last there's been a new episode produced, though it is not (to my mild disappointment) a continuation of the WWII storyline, but an adventure from the Red Panda's prior career as a wealthy gadabout with a secret crime-fighting identity. Still: very funny.


FanglyFish said...


Can wait to hear all the new episodes!!!!

Anonymous said...

I too love Decoder Ring Theatre, though I was a bit dissapointed that the new material was not along the same story line, I have grown to LOVE the interplay between Kit and The Red Panda.

If you have not yet listen to it, you should try Black Jack Justice those are great.