There’s something magical about Alberta Theatre Projects and hockey that just seems to click.
Back in 2012, ATP gave us a stellar production of Kirstie McLellan Day’s powerful drama Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story which featured Shaun Smyth skating on synthetic ice as he recalled Fleury’s painful journey from abuse to empowerment.
Until April 21, again in the Arts Common’s Martha Cohen Theatre, we have Tracey Power’s Glory, her enthralling story of the early days of women’s hockey in Canada.
It’s the story of two pairs of Ontario sisters who organized the Preston Rivulettes and turned them into national champions.
All four women were ace softball players but dreaded winter because they didn’t have a sport to play until summer returned.
Hilda Ranscombe (Katie Ryerson) was a dynamite skater who was allowed to play on men’s practice teams because she was so good and she convinced her sister Nellie (Morgan Yamada) plus the Schmuck sisters Helen (Kate Dion-Richard) and Marm (Gili Roskies) to help her spearhead a team with like minded female athletes.
With the help of a wealthy businessman, they conned Herbert Fach (Kevin Corey), the custodian and coach of a men’s team, to be their coach.
Once again ATP’s stage has been converted into a hockey rink but this time there is no synthetic ice or actual skates. Instead, Power, acting as both playwright and choreographer, has created what one enthusiastic fan I spoke with at intermission called hockeyography.
Power has created dance steps that suggest skating which the actors perform to jazz tunes from the ’20s and ’30s given a swing beat from Steve Charles. It’s a theatrical gimmick that never loses steam because Power uses different tunes and different steps for each new practice or game the four women play.
We hear about the other team members but never see them because this is a story about the women themselves as much as it is about the hockey games they play.
Because the drama and comedy of their situations is essential to the success of Glory, Power turned these scenes over to James MacDonald to direct which he does with subtle intensity and insight.
MacDonald plays the early scenes with Coach Fach
His views elicited verbal jeers from the opening night audience and I predict will do so at every performance. Corey is such a sly old dog who relishes every opportunity Power and MacDonald have given him to represent male chauvinism. He is equally adept at revealing the reason for Fach’s barely contained bitterness.
Watching Corey being won over by the women is a delight but he doesn’t make it easy especially because he has such an powerful antagonist in Roskies’ Marm, who is hurting just as much with the growing tide of anti-semitism. Roskies’ is a particularly feisty performance which she channels into both humour and pathos.
Dion-Richard plays Marm’s sister Helen as conflicted over her duty to the team and her desire to be a wife and possibly a mother. It’s a nicely modulated performance.
Yamada’s Nellie is the most masculine of the quartet and she plays her character’s secret longings for poignancy rather than humour. She and Dion-Richard have a beautiful moment of realization that is genuinely heartfelt.
Hockey is Hilda’s true passion and the possibility of representing Canada in the Olympics is a dream that Ryerson makes palpable.
Narda McCarroll’s set and lighting allow Power and MacDonald to take the action from the hockey rink to a factory, train and other important locations for this story of triumphing over odds.
Watching Power’s play I cannot believe this story has never been turned into a movie. Maybe this winning production will be the impetus some Canadian filmmaker needs because it is such a great story and such great characters.
Written and choreographed by Tracey Power
Directed by James MacDonald
Presented by ATP until April 21