First impression review: Sudden Death
Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Maria Vacratsis, Andrew Shaver
At Factory Theatre’s main space, part of the Next Stage theatre festival
Critic: Matt Jones
Play at a glance
John Kordic is a washed-up former NHL hockey player, but not the heroic, Cheerio-advertising Wayne Gretzky kind. Egged on by an overly sadistic and under-scrupulous coach, the well-built Kordic has made his name bashing the faces of the league’s best and brightest. Although fighting is a well-loved aspect of the sport, Kordic’s dependence on violence has left him with Oedipal angst (his father is a hockey purist who has stopped talking to him) that requires abundant consumption of cocaine to live with. We share an hour with Kordic’s coked-out psyche as he prepares for a meeting to relaunch his gloves-off NHL career, a move that puts him in opposition to his pregnant stripper girlfriend who prefers him unemployed and domestic rather than bloodily employed on the ice. As he agonizes over whether to become a father or take another shot at cheap superstardom, he is visited by ghosts of his hockey past, including his mother, his coach and the Great One himself.
Despite some fine acting by Tony Nappo, who smashes walls, writhes around drunk and stoned, the play descends quickly into a moral argument about the importance of listening to one’s father, caring about your girlfriend, not doing cocaine and not using violence as a substitute for athletic ability.
Tony Nappo is baddass enough to make an appealing unrepentant coke-snorting hockey jock and it’s a shame that the script doesn’t allow him to stay in this role for long, instead of making him tone down and become a vulnerable, apologetic dweeb. The charisma of Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver as TV commentators Bob and Harry pulls the action along (their synchronized foot kicks are excellent), but style does not entirely distract from the banality of the main arc of the play.
Despite the impressive performance by Nappo, his character is quickly embroiled in a banal domestic drama complete with walk outs, face slaps and arguments about being a good dad. The female characters are one-dimensional. Kordic’s mother is a resentful and over-mothering immigrant while his girlfriend, Cindy, is the kind of stripper-out-of-necessity victim that women become in after-school specials. Brett Donahue, as Wayne Gretzky, gets laughs for playing the all-Canadian hockey saint, but his obnoxious do-goodiness make him a somewhat repellant role model.
Audience’s instant reaction
The audience needed little prompting to be goaded into singing Oh Canada (with the whole house standing up when asked to) at the opening of the play and about half of the house rose for a standing ovation at the end.
Critic’s instant reaction