Poster for Other Guys production of HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD at Belfry Studio [Call 385-6815 for tickets].
1. This play by Maritimer Michael Melski has played across Canada, in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon as well as in Nova Scotia. What's the secret to its success?
Just think about the title! You've got a ready-made demographic audience there...anyone who has ever spent time in an ice rink before dawn is already going to be on board with a show about hockey parents watching their kids practice and play. And even if you have never experienced this directly, no Canadian worth his salt can resist the mythology of hockey that so serves to identify us...our national sport. So a combination of the alluring and populist setting and a quick, cleverly written two-hander about two single parents trying to connect and it looks like a win-win game for all involved. In the play, here performed as a one-act in about 70 minutes, we see Donna and Teddy engaged in the courtship game while cheering their 8 year old children on as they get whupped yet again. It's a charming formula that mostly works, although Melski does tend to hammer home his points, rather than take a slightly more subtle approach in his dialogue. While some scenes have a real ring of truth to them -- and I especially liked the scenes where the mom and dad are caught between their own conversation and the action of their sons' game -- at times the dialogue slips into movie-of-the-week and we lose some of the freshness that is present elsewhere. That said, there are a couple of unexpected twists along the way that will keep you wondering about what happens next, and if these two lonely people will ever make it together.
2. And what about this Victoria-based Other Guys Theatre production, featuring local actors and real-life married parents Brian Linds and Jan Wood?
This is the real treat of seeing this show....a rare chance to see Belfry favorite Brian Linds and his wife Jan Woods onstage together. And they are both terrific in their roles, offering us characters who are fighting for their lives in very different ways. Brian Linds is an immensely likable actor who radiates warmth and his challenge here is to make Teddy charming, but also to some extent risky, as Donna becomes less certain about his typical hockey-loving (that is, bench-clearing and brawling) ways. I think Linds can find more danger in Teddy than is there as of the preview I saw: he needs to scare Donna enough at one point to scare her away and Linds seems so much in love with her, so remorseful about his behavior that I found it difficult to believe Donna's rejection...he's just so darn nice! Jan Wood's Donna, on the other hand, suppresses her warmth with good reason...she has left a terrible and damaging marriage, she has no money and little work, and she only wants to protect her son. Not a great prospect for a relationship, but Teddy makes up his mind to woo her right off the bat, and I loved watching Wood thaw very slowly and in a very careful and thoughtful way, until she begins to let Teddy into her life a little. Wood is a terrific actor and her physical and emotional work here is a testament to her popularity as an acting professor in the theatre department at UVic, and to her long professional career. The way she reacts when Teddy touches her, the hands flying up to protect herself from anyone or anything getting to her, are wonderful to watch.
3. What about the Canadian hockey culture that is the background of the play...is it celebrated or slammed?
I'd have to say it's a bit of both. We laugh along with these characters as they watch their young children play badly, and we can even relate to Teddy's dreams of the NHL for his son Todd. And we cheer along with them when the Langford Leafs score an occasional goal. But the violence that has become such a prevalent aspect of hockey is shown when a fight breaks out on the ice and Donna is shocked by Teddy's behaviour. Personally speaking, I don't watch hockey, partly because of the violence, so I understand Donna's negative reaction, especially given her context and situation. But, on the other hand, if you're hanging out at a hockey rink and your kid is playing the game, I figure you've got to be aware at some level about the nature of the game...in 2007. Unfortunately, I found Donna's concerns about fighting understandable but still a bit naïve. I'd suggest she put her child into a different sports activity if she really wants to prevent him from being exposed to violent behaviour. Again, speaking personally, I like baseball. Rarely a two-team pile-up in ball...the only real danger is getting smoked by the ball or crashing into the fence.
4. And did you believe you were really in a kids hockey rink?
The set designed by Bill Adams, who has done many fine sets in town over the years, often at Langham Court, is simple but effective...the bleachers and grey brick back wall of a rundown Langford hockey rink. Director Ross Desprez, assisted by Brian Linds' fun and sometimes rabble-rousing sound design and Keith Houghton's effective lighting, has the two actors move effectively between and within scenes so as to make maximum use of the small space. The couple of times they actually climb over the boards and onto the ice, it is a strong effect. And the use of the buzzer marking periods in games also takes us into the rink, as does a Zamboni that seems to cross the ice right behind us.
5. Any reservations about this production, or with the play itself?
This is not a great Canadian play, but I understand and think it deserves its popularity. I agree with a Vancouver reviewer's opinion that it is a bit tired seeing the man pursue the woman and basically metaphorically beat her into submission with his sheer relentlessness. What does Teddy really see in Donna (as she asks him herself at one point, to her credit)? He seems more interested in having a partner, being a family man, than in being with this particular woman, as much as says he finds her beautiful (and I'm sure he does). And the play is (at least in part) yet another female victim story, of which I am so very, very tired. Also, it is a love story that seems to entirely lack sex, and as Romeo and Juliet taught us, that is the spice of life in love stories. Why do these two never get it on for as long as we know them? I don't know about you, but this is frustrating not just for the characters! But this production gives us a strong version of this hit show that gives us the chance to see two fine local actors working together outside of their home. Although I might daydream about seeing them together as Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, or in Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten, it's a treat to see them in Melski's bleacher romance, nonetheless.