The Sean O’Sullivan Theatre shed its image as a venue for high art and academic curiosity to become an NHL locker room. The finer points of the game were most certainly discussed and exposed but not the kind that happen on the ice. For ninety minutes, the sexual hijinks of both the players and their admirers were parsed into five era-related scenes (following the opening anthem where the lyrics “It matters not with whom you lay” summed up what was to, er, come succinctly).
Those who follow the game with passion will enjoy the slightly veiled attempts to fictionalize the infatuation of a teammate (Andy Curtis) for Wayne Bradley (wife Janet, wears No. 99 …)—“I did it [retaliating for a particularly vicious on-ice hit of the sporting kind] because I love you”—or Bobby Wolf’s home remedy for a five-game points drought (a little salve on your scrotum and you’ll soon be scoring again…), will revel in the sensationalism and roar at the attention to detail. Who knew that a knock-knock joke with a pair of athletic cups could be so funny? For the rest, who wouldn’t recognize Don Cherry if he lit up the room with one of his legendary jacket-and-tie ensembles (complemented to a certain extent by three of the fine musicians who comprise the Rheostatics—the on-stage band is more seen than heard until the last farewell), many of the gags are too inside to get.
Inspired largely by goalie Al Smith’s book, The Parade Has Passed, writer/musician Dave Bidini and director Blake Brooker have cobbled together a quick-moving view of the sexual sideshow that—win, lose or OT/shootout—makes extended road trips bearable.
The use of an overhead screen adds visual interest whether it be vintage footage or specially crafted imagery. The Zamboni taking a turn between scenes is a nice touch. The few attempts at adding extra sound-effect reinforcement to the storylines should be increased.
Finally, it’s the cast who do the heavy lifting. As Joan the shameless goalie, Denise Clarke literally lights up the stage like a Christmas tree whose flashing fifth hole is equally content to block a puck or start to fuck. Later her version of an aging French medicine woman pushes the farcical envelope out of the rink as the magical “chestnuts” treatment is proffered to the down-on-his-luck teammate of Stan Mikita.
In the first full scene, a pair of middle-age players (Curtis perfectly punchy as John; Michael Green’s Ronny never lets the tempo waver) perform a post-game striptease that is rife with literary/Canadiana quotes (“Leonard Cohen” no “David Suzuki”) and shared intimacies (“Sammy has minty armpits”).
Rounding out the troupe is Onalea Gilbertson who shares a big wet one with Dolores (Clarke) as the women choose money over love for “One Hundred Bucks,” where Bidini’s “narration noir” stint was more read than given.
The crowd most certainly enjoyed the show, but it couldn’t gain enough ongoing momentum to move from good to great. Curtis’ stereotypical characterization of a Habs-fan cab driver might not be appreciated in some communities.
Still, this production lives up to its billing and deftly proves the veracity of “There’s no room for polite in hockey.” JWR