Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad
Written by Michael Melski
Directed by Rosemary Dunsmore
Starring David Ferry and Irene Poole
At the Factory Studio Theatre in Toronto
Hockey may well be our national sport but Canadian drama has inexplicably shied away from the game. As the program notes point out, Rick Salutin's Les Canadiens in 1977 used the Habs-Leafs rivalry as a metaphor for political relations between English and French Canada. Mary Welsh's 1988 Hockey Wives was the last major play in which the game featured prominently.
Since then, hockey has made little impact on Canadian drama, compared to the ways in which, say, soccer does on British theatre ( The Beautiful Game) or baseball on American drama, from Damn Yankees to this year's Tony winner Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg.
Enter East Coast writer Michael Melski, who has crafted a sweet, little two-hander about the evolving relationship between two working-class single parents (played by David Ferry and Irene Poole) in Cape Breton, as they watch their sons play minor-league hockey. It's called Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad and it just got its Toronto premiere Thursday at the Factory Studio Theatre.
But let's begin with the pre-show entertainment in the audience. The sense of anticipation and excitement -- something a critic normally learns to tune out -- was palpable as the crowd rose to sing the national anthem and heckled the usher before settling in for a good slice of Canadian-styled entertainment.
Entertainment is exactly what Melski is giving them. Despite attempts at using the game on so many metaphorical levels that you stop counting (romantic relationships, self-defence, violence, racial insensitivities), the folksy play is like its self-described hockey dad, "simple" and "not very ambitious." It has all the predictability of the pre-game rituals of your average hockey mom and dad on a Saturday morning.
Like the Tim Horton's Tim-bits box that makes a belated appearance in the second act, predictability is what makes this show familiar, fun and endearing to watch, but less than satisfying theatrically. You know very well where the couple's relationship is going from the first scene and, despite an equivocal ending, Melski doesn't disappoint.
Neither do Ferry and Poole, the best double act I've seen in many a season.
But even the unflappable Ferry can't quite overcome Melski's decision to split the play, which is slightly more than 95 minutes, into two acts -- all the comedy in the first act and the serious drama in the second. After the exhilarating first act, the momentum flags, although a flagged momentum for Ferry is the equivalent energy level of a hyperactive kid on an extreme sugar rush.
That said, if the first act belongs to Ferry's spunky dad, the second is a chance for Poole to flesh out her character.
Rosemary Dunsmore (a wonderful actor herself) is a fair director, allowing both actors to feed off each other's energies and skills. Unlike hockey, theatre is a game where a clear winner need not emerge.
Both Ferry and Poole do what Canadian stage actors have been asked to do so many times it's becoming a ritual: transform a basic script into something exceptional. I salute them.
Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad continues at Toronto's Factory Studio Theatre until Dec. 7 (416-504-9971).