Tavern's moose takes up acting

Something’s wrong in Coupeville. A waterfront icon’s place is bare — the moose is missing from Toby’s Tavern.

The moose head has hung in the tavern, along with a buffalo head, a rowing scull and other bits of island esoterica for several years. But don’t think Toby’s plans on gentrifying the joint. The moose is simply taking a break from his stint at Toby’s.

The moose moved to Oak Harbor when he was cast in Whidbey Playhouse’s production of “Catch Me If You Can.”

The play is set in a cabin in the Maine woods and there is a reference to a moose head so director Ed Bennett started looking for one. He said there are several around Whidbey but Toby’s had the best one.

“The nice people there allowed him to ride up the road,” Bennett says.

“He’s the most gracious character,” Bennett added. “He accepts stage direction well and doesn’t miss many cues.”

This is the moose’s first production and Bennett says there aren’t many plays written with a moose in mind. “We’d have to look around for a play for him,” Bennett said. “I guess we could do ‘Bambi’,” he added.

“We’ve had lots of people ask us where the moose is,” said Gary Sims, Toby’s Tavern manager. “There’s definitely an empty space here without our moose.”

According to Sims, the moose has been hanging out at Toby’s for at least five years when the big-antlered guy was donated for display and soon became a gathering place for hats. Sims told the moose “Keep a stiff upper lip,” before the moose motored up to Oak Harbor.

Playhouse Manager Janis Powell says the moose really is part of Whidbey Playhouse’s family since Toby’s Tavern owner John Rodriguey and his wife Gaye are playhouse members. Their daughter Emily Rodriguey has performed music for several productions and won a playhouse scholarship. Powell says Bullwinkle is probably the most interesting character in the play that’s billed as a “comedy, mystery, suspense thriller.”

Sims says Toby’s has never named the moose but he’s been nicknamed “Bullwinkle” by Whidbey Playhouse. Bullwinkle doesn’t have any lines in the play but he does play a crucial role by holding several signs that offer clues to the audience.

After “Catch Me If You Can” closes Saturday, Bullwinkle will return to Toby’s Tavern. He’ll go back on Toby’s waterside wall. “Lots of people are waiting for his return,” Sims said.

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