Sunday, January 13, 2013


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,
Andrew Shaver, Maria Vacratsis
At: The Factory Theatre for the Next Stage Festival

Reviewed by: Ashley Williamson

Play at a Glance

Former NHL enforcer John (Tony Nappo) is getting ready for a big meeting with the Oilers that might resuscitate his nearly dead hockey career.  As he psychs himself up with steroids shots, cocaine and his new "creme" suit, he is alternately visited by the women in his life (his mum, played by Maria Vacratsis, and his girl, played by Melissa-Jane Shaw) and by hallucinations of his Junior Hockey coach (Layne Coleman) and the Great One himself (Brett Donahue).  The audience follows along with the enthusiastic help of sports broadcasters, Bob (Greg Gale) and Larry (Andrew Shaver).

First Impression

Nappo's performance of the insecure, drug addled John is excellent.  He manages to balance the frenetic energy of an angry hockey goon with genuine charm and softness.  His performance made me believe that John just might pull himself together in the end.  Shaver and Gale are pitch perfect in their send up of cliché-mangling, stats-spouting sportscasters. They offer before-show banter (complete with an audience-participation rendition of O Canada), between-period interviews with the cast, and a final comment on the play's events.  Finally, Donahue's satire of Gretzky as the Jesus of Hockey is delightful if not a bit sacrilegious for a hockey fan who is old enough have owned a child-sized 99 jersey.

Highlights

The stripper-club flashback scene in which Melissa-Jane Shaw's Cindy delivers an acrobatic but totally impassive dance set to Warrant's Cherry Pie to a chatty, vulnerable, and disarming John was the best scene in the play.

The nitpicks

Initially it was not clear if Maria Vacratsis as John's mum was actually in his hotel room or only a hallucination.  Although the sportscasters claimed that the first hallucination of  the play was the coach I still wasn't convinced the only real people in the hotel room that night weren't just John and Cindy.

Audience's instant reaction
To start:  A willing and boisterous singing of the national anthem.
To finish: A Whoo hoo, with a scattered but enthusiastic ovation.

Critic's instant reaction:

Three and a half stars

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.

First impression

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.

Highlights

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.

The nitpicks

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

Two stars
First Impression review: Sudden Death


Written by: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by: Matthew MacKenzie
Featuring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Maria Vacratsis

Produced by Pyretic Productions at The Toronto Fringe’s Next Stage Festival.

Critic: Jenny Salisbury

Play at a Glance

John Kordic (Tony Nappo) is a washed up NHL enforcer with a decision to make. He's been offered a chance to get back on the ice and return to his glory days. But an addiction to coke and steroids, and the news of becoming a father, leaves him in a seedy hotel room, fighting with the ghosts of his past. Will the pressures of an overbearing mother (Maria Vacratsis), a career-obsessed coach (Layne Coleman), the shadow of The Great One (Brett Donahue), and the demands of an expectant mother (Melissa-Jane Shaw) be too much? Or will this bully of the ice finally fight for a future?

First Impression

Based on a true story, this smart, funny and hard-hitting production reveals the darker side of hockey. Featuring a strong script and a stellar cast, it showcases what we've come to expect of The Next Stage Festival: a night of new theatre, still in a process of development, but well on its way to a full-scale production. MacKenzie's direction and Corbeil-Coleman's script weave together perfectly, setting the stage for the player who doesn't get to be a hero, and showing what happens when the fight is against yourself.

Highlights

Tony Nappo's performance is one for the books, masterfully portraying a coke-addicted, broken bully as the unlikely hero we want to see win. Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver keep the audience laughing in their quick-witted parody of sportscasters, their slapstick humour offering a great balance to the grit of this story.

The Nitpicks

Nappo and Shaw's romantic duo get caught in moments of poetry that fall flat and run counter to the grit and liveliness of the rest of the production.

Audiences Instant Reaction
Warm and welcoming, endin'g in a standing ovation.

Critic’s Instant Reaction

Four stars out of five
First impression review: Sudden Death


Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Produced by Pyretic Productions at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw and Maria Vacratsis

Review by: Martine Plourde

Play at a glance

Meet John Kordic (Tony Nappo) former NHL hockey player who is now dealing with a cocaine addiction and some inner demons as he prepares for an interview that could mean a new contract with the NHL. Harry (Andrew Shaver) and Bob (Greg Gale) are the commentator duo who guide the audience through the game that is John’s internal battles: confronting his mother, Regina (Maria Vacratsis), “The Great One” (Brett Donahue), and his former coach (Layne Coleman). Adding to the list of problems is the real-life predicament with his girlfriend and soon to be baby mama, Cindy (Melissa-Jane Shaw). Can John make it through the game of his life and manage to pull it together, beat his addiction, to get the contract as well as the girl?

First Impression

Shaver and Gale manage to kick-start the show by getting the audience involved in a rendition of the national anthem. The pacing is at times awkward as the commentators slip in and out of the plot, however towards the second half of the performance the transitions move more smoothly setting up a neat rhythm.

From the entrance of Nappo in his (arguably non-existent) costume, we get the sense that this is not a family-friendly performance – definitely not a night with the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada.

Highlights

Some great moments with sharp writing and clever one-liners. The commentators played by Andrew Shaver and Greg Gale have great chemistry, charisma and wonderful comedic timing. Brett Donahue is also quite good as the wholesome “Great One,” while Tony Nappo gives an interesting and moving performance.

The Nitpicks

Although the crude humor is, for the most part, quite clever, the profanity does get a little excessive.

Audience’s Instant Reaction

Moments of rousing laughter, silence, ending in a dispersed standing ovation.

Critic’s Instant Reaction

Three and a half stars

First impression review: Sudden Death at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Starring Tony Nappo
At the Factory Theatre

Critic: Gina Brintnell

Play at a glance

An original and wholeheartedly Canadian dark comedy. Tony Nappo plays John Kordic, “a man at breaking point,” an unstable, former hockey enforcer looking to get back into the game after a seven-year career on four different teams. We find him on the eve of his last big fight - and when the buzzer goes, not even the world's greatest ref could call the immensity of Kordic's wins and losses.

First impression

Nappo begins violently celebratory in his underwear in a seedy motel room - his own gritty and fun spirit sets the mood of the show well. He revels in an unlikely coupling of cocaine and potential paternity - an uncomfortable contradiction that the audience rides along with. He is soon joined by his hallucinatory, drug-induced co-stars who spill out of unlikely and compelling places, alive and surprising. MacKenzie steers his cast well; the production team only helps the show to score.

Highlights

- Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver, the very Canuck hockey commentators, bad ties and cheap suits and slippery glibness kept the audience engaged.

- Brett Donahue rolling out of a well-used motel mini-bar, as the clean-cut and irritating cliché of Wayne Gretzky.

- Nappo's fight with the air was enthralling, a skilled performance in both his portrayal of wounded tenderness and rampant violence. He shows a vulnerability battling for the love of a dead father; he fails to realize he is only throwing knuckles at himself.

The nitpicks

Gale and Shaver's comedy was commendable but the slapstick antics got schlocky fast. The camp was effective but the pace dropped.

Audience’s instant reaction

First, half-hearted chorus of the national anthem - but it picked up, with the thrumming energy of a hockey crowd on game night, when the home team keeps scoring.

Critic’s instant reaction

****