Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad: Not Just Pucking Around

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kevin kincaid & heather rankin photo by timothy richard

Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad has had productions across the country and throughout North America since it was written in 1995 by Nova Scotian playwright Michael Melski. Now, it has come to Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre, directed by Melski with an A-game cast of Halifax-based actors Heather Rankin and Kevin Kincaid and plays there until October 27th, 2013. The play is now rooted in present day Dartmouth at a time when scouting for NHL players among eight year old Pewees, and the increasing debate about the safety and bullying ramifications of ice fighting are increasingly in the spotlight.

The play centres on Teddy, a divorced father of eight year old “butterball” Troy, who wants nothing more than to help coach his son to winning the Stanley Cup, and Donna, a single mother haunted by her past who is trying to balance protecting her eight year old son, Matthew, and allowing him to play hockey because he wants to. They are an unlikely pair, yet, while cheering for their boys in the bleachers of the rink, their loneliness begins to bind them closer together. The heart of the play lies in the hitch. Donna has a dark secret and Teddy is not entirely as he first appears either. Melski draws parallels between the behavior one exhibits in a hockey rink, be it on the ice or in the stands when the mob-like adrenaline kicks in, with the ways that people behave when angry or in pursuit of power in everyday life. Do we sanction bullying by allowing, encouraging and often even teaching our athletes how to fight in pursuit of winning a game? Where do we draw the line between what is or is not “appropriate” (or even humane) behavior? What is the line between assertive and aggressive and how do we empower the vulnerable without teaching them to fight back? Donna and Teddy continually smash up against these issues like hockey players crashing into the boards and it encourages us to perceive their relationship through a deeper, darker and more critical lens.

Kevin Kincaid plays Teddy, a loudmouth, rough around the edges, often vulgar, goofy, brazen, often obnoxious, but well intentioned, sitcom Dad stereotype. He is Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. He is Raymond Barone. His cheesy flirtations and testosterone-fuelled machismo are familiar to us, and, likely, have been conditioned by our popular culture as being behavior that is perceived as “safe” and even awkwardly charming. Kincaid captures all of this with exuberance, panache and sharp comic timing and sense of silliness, especially in his victory dancing. The subtlety with which Kincaid pushes Teddy over the line and threads his flaws through his well intentioned heart speaks volumes. In life, so often it is not just the obvious and clearly dangerous behaviors one must be wary of, but the more nuanced ones that leave nagging, but doubtful, warning bells ringing in one’s ear. Indeed, if we examine Tim Taylor and Ray Barone by the same standard, we may be disturbed to see what kinds of problematic behaviors have been normalized by decades’ worth of American television.

Heather Rankin’s Donna, in contrast, does not belong in a conventional sitcom. She is vulnerable, broken, scared and intensely guarded. She has difficulties distinguishing between Teddy’s jokes and his true or real intentions. She truly lights up, beams from the heart, only when watching Matthew or talking about his triumphs. Rankin’s acrid, dry wit gives her perfect banter fuel for Kincaid’s Teddy and provides much of the play’s humour, as well as igniting the couple’s undeniable chemistry. At times Rankin is so raw and delving so deeply into Donna’s emotions of hurt, fear and anger that she is heartbreaking to watch. While Teddy has difficulties shutting up and is remarkably direct in communicating his thoughts, one can see so clearly in Rankin the continuing wheels of a monologue silently churning through Donna’s mind, trapped there and voiceless.

Michael Melski’s most obvious skill as a writer in this play is the way that he captures so vividly and so honestly the vernacular of these characters and this particular experience. The one issue I had, dramaturgically, was that because the moment where Donna goes onto the ice after Matthew is so profoundly beautiful, dramatic and immensely strong, the play is weakened by tacking the last scene on the end. After such a glorious catharsis that Heather Rankin nails so seamlessly, everything that follows is less interesting, and arguably even redundant, in comparison. Melski’s direction is compact and well rooted in a sense of space, both in the rink and one’s own personal space and how we maneuver around each other’s comfort zones and, sometimes hijack them for our selfish agendas or want of power.

Victoria Marston’s set transports you immediately to a hockey rink (bring a sweater, it’s even cold like one!) and Sound Designer Jesse MacLean should be selling copies of the play’s soundtrack in the lobby, it’s so infectious.

Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad is a riveting piece of theatre that left me feeling a little sad and heartily fulfilled.

Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad opened October 17th at Neptune’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) and runs until October 27th. Shows are Tuesday to Friday at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $20-$38.00. For tickets call 902.429.7070 or visit http://www.neptunetheatre.com or come to the Box Office at 1593 Argyle Street.

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