Dilettante's Diary

Jan 22/13

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Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
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How Fiction Works
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The Jesus Sayings
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Head to Head
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Me In Manhattan
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About Me
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OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: Silver Linings Playbook (Movie); Maria Stuarda (Opera); Boys Town (Short Story); Rust and Bone (Movie); Memorial (Play); Sudden Death (Play)

Silver Linings Playbook (Movie) written and directed by David O. Russell; based on the book by Matthew Quick; starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Anupam Kher, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok, Julia Stiles, Paul Herman.

About ten minutes into this one, a bias of mine came up. I’m not much interested in fictional portrayals of mentally disturbed people. In the first place, it’s too easy for the actors involved to draw attention by being weird. It’s much more challenging for actors to present ordinary people and to make them interesting without all the quirks. And it’s more rewarding for viewers to see such characters being presented

Which is my second reason for not being particularly fond of seeing clinically disturbed people on screen. There’s no mystery or intrigue about them; you know what the problems and symptoms are. Without being a medical expert, you know more or less what they should be doing to control themselves. When they don’t, it’s a bit like watching fireworks: entertaining in a way but not particularly engaging.

In this case, the patient that we’re watching is Pat (Bradley Cooper). He’s bipolar and he’s been spending some time in a mental institution. He'd come home one day and found his wife in the shower with another guy. Pat nearly killed the rival and the court agreed to let Pat off if he spent time in psychiatric treatment. His mom, Delores (Jacki Weaver), has sprung him from the hospital before his term is up. She’s signed for the responsibility of looking after him. Now he’s at home with his parents and they’re struggling to make him take his meds and trying to cope with his waking them at 3 a.m. with tirades about picayune issues.

I have no complaint with Bradley Cooper’s attack on the role. He presents Pat credibly. With the encouragement of his shrink and his support group, Pat’s always looking for the "silver linings" in everything. The therapy jargon rings true. Mr. Cooper gives us the full range of Pat's mood swings, his irrational arguments and his off-the-wall assuptions. You can see that he’s tightly wired and there’s always a guarded, alert look in his eyes, as if he’s not sure he can handle what’s going to hit him next. It’s not the actor’s fault that the role never offers much more than a case study.

What can be more interesting in a movie about such a person is to see how other people respond to him or her. Not the townspeople in this one, though. The way they over-react to the threat posed by Pat's presence is ludicrous. But Robert de Niro, as Pat’s dad, is a marvel. When Delores arrives home from the hospital with Pat, you can see that dad hasn’t been expecting this development. He’s wary but he knows he should express some affection and encouragement in welcoming his son home. Somehow, before saying anything, Mr de Niro makes all that clear. The short scene could stand as a lesson for all young actors on how an old pro can say so much with nuance and subtlety.

While I was managing to accept one mentally disturbed person at the centre of a movie, my tolerance was getting strained when another one came along in the person of Tiffany, the sister of the wife of a friend of Pat’s. Tiffany, also a former psychiatric patient, is sultry, sullen, sulky, stubborn, self-centred and slutty. (That sister of hers [Julia Stiles] is a pretty horrible person in her own right. Do these filmmakers actually know such ghastly people?) Granted, Tiffany’s husband, a cop, was killed on duty after three years of marriage. That might knock any surviving spouse off balance. But it’s hard to see how this kook ever had any balance. She pursues Pat like a hungry rat but then she starts firing kernels of wisdom at him as if she were Deepak Chopra. Ultimately, she’s reduced to uttering banalities like: "At first I thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, I think you’re the worst thing. I wish I never met you." Jennifer Lawrence is an interesting actor to watch (astounding in Winter’s Bone, my first encounter with her) but she doesn’t manage – who could? – to make sense of this incomprehensible woman.

Still, I was willing to hang in. It bothered me, though, that several people in the audience, were laughing at what was going on. It doesn’t feel good to know that you’re in an audience of people who are amused by the odd things that mentally disturbed people do. About half way through the movie, though, it turned out that the laughing audience members were right and I was wrong. Silly me to have tried to take it all seriously. Thanks to some elaborate plotting, the movie turns out to be a ridiculous comedy.

In return for acting as go-between for Pat vis a vis his estranged wife, Tiffany cons him into joining a dance contest with her. So now the story moves along the well-travelled trajectory of the push to the big competition. (But some of the dance rehearsals are lovely.) To make things even more cloying, the big hopes for the dance get paired in a pricey double bet, the other half of the wager having to do with Pat’s dad’s expectations for his football team’s big win. While this preposterous situation is being set up, Tiffany stuns us with evidence that she hasn’t just been sulking all this time: she’s been making a careful study of football statistics. She’s such an expert on the subject, in fact, that she wins over Pat’s skeptical father.

Not being much caught up in all this palaver, my attention turned to the awful decor of Pat’s parents’ living room. It’s hard to believe that anybody nowadays could live in a place that expresses a standard of taste lower than the one set by Edith and Archie Bunker. There’s the plaid upholstery on couches and chairs, the chintz curtains, the gold wallpaper against the dark woodwork. The famous portrait of Jesus in three-quarters profile -- you know the one, in soft browns, where he seems like a totally mellow dude -- looked like it was meant to raise the tone of things. But even the well-meaning Nazarene might not have been able to perform the miracle necessary to save this movie from sinking.

Capsule comment: Good intentions sabotaged by corny plotting.


Maria Stuarda (Opera) by Gaetano Donizetti; conducted by Maurizio Benini; production by David McVicar; design by John MacFarlane; starring Joyce DiDonato, Elza van den Heever, Matthew Polenzani, Joshua Hopkins, Matthew Rose; with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus; HD Live Transmission; Jan 19th.

Don’t look for a lot of history in this story of the sparring queens, Elizabeth and Mary. The piece is only loosely based on the facts. But, to give credit to Gaetano Donizetti and his librettist, Giuseppe Bardari, they’ve boiled the story down to a few very concise scenes. First, we see Elizabeth sending Leicester to tell the French Ambassador that she’s accepting an offer of marriage from the brother of the King of France. She’s doing it for England, of course. She’d rather have Leicester, but he now has a thing for Mary. In fact, he’s pleading with Elizabeth to free her from prison. Next is a fictional hunting scene where Leicester has arranged a meeting between the two rivals for the throne. He’s hoping that peace and forgiveness will prevail. Unfortunately, the submissive role doesn’t sit well with Mary. She insults Elizabeth. After the intermission, it’s ten years later and we have Elizabeth trying to decide whether or not to sign Mary’s death warrant. Not much suspense there, given that we all know how that turned out. The final scene is Mary’s meeting with her loyal followers before her execution.

The style of this production, the Met’s first-ever Maria Stuarda, by director David McVicar and designer John MacFarlane, is stripped-down surrealism. Host Deborah Voigt, in her introductory remarks, told us that the Met stage, in keeping with the Elizabethan era of the story, was supposed to look like the Globe theatre. It was pretty hard to see a suggestion of Shakespeare’s humble hangout in the grand structure on stage at the Met. A large platform served, first, as a place for jugglers and tumblers to perform, later as a desk in the Queen’s consulting room. To me, it was an awkward thing that looked like nothing so much as an over-sized ping-pong table. But the forest where the two queens met was effectively evoked with bare poles representing trees, a murky sky in the background. And Mary’s prison – high, dark walls, covered with scrawled graffiti – was suitably dreary.

As usual in Donizetti, you get people singing gorgeous melodies about awful things. Some of the most beautiful music, to my ears, comes in the ensembles. A special instance was the duet between Elizabeth and Leicester near the end of the first scene. They were like two lovers billing and cooing at each other and yet he was singing the praises of Mary while Elizabeth was thinking out loud about how she was going to have him executed for such treachery. Matthew Polenzani sang very sweetly, in a pure, lyrical way, as Leicester. (But why did the program handed out at the theatre door list Franceso Meli in the role, even though the Met had announced in September that he had withdrawn from the production?) As Elizabeth, South African soprano Elza van den Heever was making her Met debut. Ms van den Heever’s singing is splendid, her voice rich and golden, perfectly blended from top to bottom.

Her acting wasn’t so pleasing. It’s a pity to be forced to say something negative about someone’s Met debut but Ms van den Heever’s lumbering and swaggering about the stage was probably the hammiest performance ever seen in one of these transmissions. Presumably this was the result of Ms van den Heever’s understanding of the director’s instructions. In the intermission interview, Ms van den Heever said that Mr. McVicar had ordered her to be masculine and forceful rather than regal. I think an opera star who had more experience, or better coaching, or more time for rehearsal could have taken that direction and turned it into a credible demonstration of masculine qualities in the queen without clomping around like the Incredible Hulk.

For an example of exquisite acting by an opera star, we didn’t have to look any further than Joyce DiDonato in the role of Mary.

But, first, her voice. Ms. DiDonato doesn’t sound like a typical mezzo-soprano to me. Although her low notes are secure and ballsy, there’s little of the darker quality that you hear from many mezzo-sopranos. But who needs that darker quality when her handling of the bel canto is so beautiful? While every note she sang was perfect, the most astonishing passages, to my ears, were the ones where she sang unaccompanied pianissimo, the orchestra having left her all alone. She also has an excellent trill, something you don’t often hear these days.

In a way, though, it was her acting that was most notable about her performance. When Ms. Voigt asked her, in the intermission interview, what makes the confrontation scene between the two queens so powerful, Ms. DiDonato, who’s sung both roles, said it’s because "they’re both right." Each one, she said, is convinced of the justice of her own cause, given her religion, her up-bringing and such factors. Somehow, that statement of Ms. DiDonato’s seemed to say something admirable about her own character: intelligent, open-minded and compassionate. The fact that she can sympathize with opposing characters so fully may be why her acting is so convincing.

What that quality meant in terms of dramatic effect became most striking in the final scene. Up to that point, I wasn’t much involved in the drama. You don’t go to Donizetti for great theatre. You go for great melodies. But that attitude left me drastically unprepared for the emotional wallop of the finale.

First, we were softened up by the chorus who, at that point, represented Mary’s followers, all in black, gathered to bid her farewell. Their hushed lament about the great shame that was about to befall England was spell-binding. And then out came Ms. DiDonato, as Mary. Shaky with age and fear, she was wearing a long white veil attached to her headpiece, presumably to signify the innocence that she sill claimed. It was heart-rending to watch her greeting her friends. For their sakes, she's trying  to appear loving and serene but she's obviously terrified. One stunning moment leading up to the dreadful climax came when, for about thirty seconds, she held a high note, very softly, against the massed sound of the chorus. Eventually, stripped of her gown and wig, her short white hair bristling, wearing only a red sheath, she mounted the high steps leading to a scaffold shrouded in darkness. The effect was excruciating.


Boys Town (Short Story) by Jim Shepard; The New Yorker, Nov 8, 2010

This one caught my eye while I was browsing through old New Yorkers before passing them on to a friend. Perhaps I'd read it before. This time it was the narrative voice that knocked me over. (Tone of voice is one of the most important things for me in any writing.)

Our first-person narrator is a guy who's back from military service; his ex-wife and kid are living far away. He has to keep sending her money if he wants to see the kid; he scrambles through various jobs to try to come up with the cash. Meanwhile, he's living with his mom, his dad having left long ago. It's the verbal crossfire between the mom and the son that hit me: rude, vulgar, insulting and profane. It struck me as hilarious to think of a mother and son talking to each other that way.

The note of hilarity doesn't last, though. The story becomes very bleak as you see what a loser this guy is. He constantly messes up and he never seems to understand why things go wrong for him. Looking back over his life, he says: "...whatever I did wasn't good enough, anything I figured out I figured out too late, and whenever I tried to help I made things worse."  That might sound self-pitying but it's not. He's constantly trying to get things right but he seems doomed to failure. The poignancy of his situation is all the more striking in that he keeps daydreaming about that sentimental Mickey Rooney movie Boys Town.

This is probably one of the most convincing fictional portrayals of a kind of guy most of us wouldn't want to know. And yet, you feel almost weak with pain as you see his bad karma closing in on him.


Rust and Bone (Movie) written by Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson; directed by Jacques Audiard; starring Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Corinne Masiero, Armand Verdure, Bouli Lanners, Cline Sallette, Jean-Michel Correia, Mourad Frarema, Yannick Choirat

Judging by the previews, this didn’t look like my kind movie. More of an Oprah opera. Something about a woman who loses her legs in an awful accident, after which a man helps her rediscover joy and meaning.

Well, there’s no denying that that’s the general outline of the story. But it sure ain’t no hearts-and-flowers melodrama.

The accident – we might as well get this out of the way right now because it comes early on in the movie – occurs at one of those marine exhibitions featuring trained orcas (a.k.a. "killer whales"). One of the whales misses a jump and crashes into a platform, sending, Stphanie, one of the trainers into the pool. She comes out with both legs chopped off above the knee. (Where the missing sections went, we might not want to know.)

In her depressed state during her convalescence, she happens to phone Ali, a guy she’d met some months earlier. He’d been a bouncer at a nightclub where she got injured as a bystander during a fight. He’d driven her home. She was fending him off, but he left his phone number just in case she needed help some time.

It takes quite a while to set up Ali’s and Stphanie’s different stories and to bring them together after the initial meeting of the two characters. But that’s not to suggest that the movie drags in any way. It moves along very efficiently and keeps your interest in both stories. One particularly effective technique is that many scenes are shot in an elliptical way: you hear just enough of a conversation or a suggestion, you don’t hear how an exchange ends, but you move on to the next scene and that’s how you find out how the previous one was resolved. Although the proceedings are, for the most part, fairly mundane and day-to-day, there are a lot of different threads to the plot and they do eventually come together in a rather complicated way that might almost be considered old-fashioned. Still, the movie never seems the least bit contrived.

The main interest is the relationship between Stphanie and Ali. It’s a friendship like no other. There’s no denying that he’s a sort of good Samaritan, in that he does help to pull Stphanie out of her gloom. But the more intriguing questions are: what’s going on between them? how do they feel about each other? where is this friendship going? (And you could say that about the movie itself: you’re never sure what’s next.) When they eventually get around to talking about sex, it’s not like any conversation you’ve ever heard between two people who might be heading to bed together. It’s one of those rare situations where you have the feeling of hearing something that hasn’t been re-hashed in a thousand movies.

Partly, that’s because Ali’s contributions to the conversation are so blunt. As played by Matthias Schoenaerts, Ali is one of those mecs who isn’t much good at explaining or justifying himself. Ali’s not a bad sort; it’s just that he makes a lot of bad choices. His world isn’t exactly bottom-line impoverished but it’s one where people are always scrambling to make a few extra bucks. In addition to his work as a security guard, he starts taking on fights in one of those clandestine bare-knuckle clubs where significant amounts of cash are wagered. He also gets involved in an illegal sideline by way of helping a guy to install secret video equipment to spy on employees in big stores and warehouses.

Through all this, Ali has a five-year-old son named Sam to look after. It’s not clear what happened to the child’s mother. The one reference to her would seem to indicate that she gave up custody of him. Ali has brought the child to the south of France where they’re living with Ali’s sister (Corinne Masiero) and her husband (Bouli Lanners), having left behind their previous home in Belgium. Ali isn’t an un-loving dad, but his parenting skills could do with some fine tuning. Plus, he has a temper. Watch out for some cringe-making episodes in the child care department.

The scenes where we first meet Ali and Sam, the movie’s opening scenes, show a lot about director Jacques Audiard’s way of telling his story. There’s Ali, walking by the side of the road (in Belgium, I guess), trying to hitchhike, with Sam trailing behind him. Presumably the hitching doesn’t pan out, because we next see them on a train. Sam mutters that he’s hungry. Then we see Ali making the rounds of the empty seats on the train, trying to scrounge some leftovers for them to eat. It’s astonishing how much that sequence, with barely any words, says about Ali and Sam and their place in the world.

In other ways as well, the story-telling is much enhanced by remarkable visuals. The sight of a helicopter hovering over a building can convey an uncanny feeling of menace. Flickering underwater shots in the aquarium pool, sometimes from the whales’ point of view, are frightening.  We learn everything we need to know about a dismal trip on a freeway by watching the camera's focus on the flapping canvas at the back of a truck. To show us how one of Ali’s fights is going, Monsieur Audiard simply offers a close-up of a bloody tooth rolling across the ground. When Ali takes Stphanie out for a stroll in her wheelchair, the sight of their shadows on the pavement tells us more than a straight-on shot of them would. Throughout the movie, such inspired shots add emotional resonance that we wouldn’t get from more conventional staging.

As Stphanie, Marion Cotillard deserves a lot of credit for not playing the beauty we've known in many of her previous movies. She’s utterly convincing as the woman who, on the brink of middle age, is staring at the fact that she appears to have lost everything that made her life meaningful. Most of the time, she’s wan and puffy-eyed. Her hair is often greasy and unwashed. If there are any points at which she can be said to project any beauty, it would be in the infrequent moments when the sun catches a faint smile on her face.

Usually, that’s when Ali has persuaded her to get outdoors. So yes, the movie does have a redemptive aspect to it. But it’s not all about cozy sentiment. Ambivalence looms larger than romance. In other words, it’s a piece of nitty-gritty realism about working your way through stuff, making do, "rubbing along," as the Brits would say.

Capsule comment (instead of a "rating"): Gritty realism infused with compassion.


Memorial (Play) written by Steven Gallagher; directed by D. Jeremy Smith; starring Mark Crawford, Mary Francis Moore, Pierre Simpson. Next Stage Theatre Festival; Factory Theatre, Toronto; Jan 12/13

Every January, Fringe Toronto mounts some hit shows from previous Fringes. There’s a special pleasure about attending these Next Stage performances: you get houses packed with really enthusiastic theatre-goers. That may have something to do with the fact that the venues are small, the ticket prices are low ($12) and many of the audience members are, themselves, theatre people. Still, you get feeling that the Toronto theatre world is thriving and exciting for a lot of people. There’s none of that ennui that you get at other times: ho-hum-this-is-our-subscription-choice-for this month-so-we-have-to-attend. No, these people are keen on good theatre.

Which is what they got in this show.

Dylan is dying of brain cancer. He’s planning a memorial for himself, to be held next week. His sister Ruth is here, in his bedroom, rehearsing the speech she’s going to give at the memorial. Dylan is correcting her and bossing her. Before the memorial, though, Dylan and his partner, Trevor, are going to be married – this afternoon, in fact. Trevor’s trying to get Dylan ready for the ceremony but Dylan’s fraught and distracted.

What a fantastic set-up.

But the opening of the play gave me some trouble. Dylan is so belligerent and obnoxious that I was hating him. Mark Crawford played Dylan as very loud and aggressive; he didn’t seem anything like a sick person near death. He had more strength and energy in him than most of us in the audience. After a while, though, we began to see that he could be very funny. As we gradually warmed up to him, the play began to take flight and it ended up being an emotionally wrenching experience.

Was it necessary to start off feeling hostile to Dylan in order for the play to have the effect of winning you over contrary to your expectations? After all, one of the most successful tactics of theatre is to turn the tables on you. Certainly that’s what happened here. I simply can’t say whether the play would have been as successful if the part of Dylan had been played – or written – somewhat more sympathetically from the outset.

It’s certainly one of the most remarkable roles to come along in quite a while. Dylan is outrageous, sarcastic, bossy (did I mention that?), flamboyant, ballsy and ornery. But he’s not self-pitying and he does have a self-deprecating sense of humour. One of my favourite lines comes in a flashback to his first meeting with Trevor. Says Dylan: "I’m irresistible when you get to know me." (Not an exact quote, but close.) Mr. Crawford takes the part and runs with it as though it were written for him. At times, his approach to humour almost verges on clowning, but he never quite crosses the line, always keeping his zaniness within the bounds of believability.

While Memorial is definitely Dylan’s play, the two other characters make substantial contributions to the emotional arc of the work. Trevor, as played by Pierre Simpson, is gentle, long-suffering and patient – until he’s pushed too far. As Ruth, Mary Francis Moore fills in the picture of Dylan’s family, acting as our surrogate in helping him to find his way through his sexuality as a teen, and, eventually providing wry, affectionate support in his final crisis.

Not least important of the artistic contributions is the work of director D. Jeremy Smith. The very rapid pace of the play is slowed appropriately at times by quiet visual business – as in the very touching scenario where Trevor is shaving Dylan in preparation for the wedding. Lovely transitions from present to past are effected, as when a glass of medication that Trevor’s handing to Dylan becomes the drink that brought them together at their first meeting.

One of the most touching scenes from the past, back when all this trauma was just beginning, is the one where Dylan’s alone in hospital, phoning to ask Trevor to come and pick him up. Dylan’s had an accident on his bike, his head is hurting a lot, they’ve done a scan and they seem to think there’s some problem with his brain.....and..... Dylan’s laughing a bit, trying to pass it all off as a silly nuisance and yet..... ? Mr. Smith, directing the actors with careful attention to timing and nuance, has enabled them to get the maximum effect from many such moments that the play offers.

Which leads to the obvious fact that the major credit for this astounding achievement should go to playwright Steven Gallagher. His script displays some of the most original wit I’ve seen on stage in a long time. And yet the play constantly jerks you back and forth from tenderness to torment.

The writing is so powerful that I hesitate to risk coming across as a nerd by making what might seem an academic or theoretical criticism. However, it did bother me that the play is aiming at two goal lines: the marriage this afternoon and the memorial next week. Usually, when a play, a movie, or a book is structured as a forward thrust to the "big event," there’s only the one culmination pending. The fact that we had the two, in this case, diverted the focus somewhat. At times, the wedding was forgotten; it seemed there was more attention given to the memorial. I don’t know whether or not this could be fixed. Maybe it’s not necessary. Does it matter if your car isn’t firing on all the pistons as long as it’s giving you a great ride?


Sudden Death (Play) by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman; directed by Matthew MacKenzie; starring Tony Nappo, Maria Vacratsis, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Greg Gale, Andrew Shaver, Brett Donahue, Layne Coleman; Next Stage Theatre Festival; Factory Theatre, Toronto; Jan 13/13

What attracted me to this play was that it sounded like a different way of doing theatre.

The main idea of the play, however, isn’t particularly revolutionary. It’s based on the real-life tragedy of John Kordic, an NHL player for seven years, who died in 1992 at the age of twenty-seven.

In Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman’s reflection on the sad story, you’ve got this hockey player shut up in a sleazy motel room, contemplating his past life and his future. He’s a goon enforcer who’s been banned from hockey for cocaine-related incidents. He’s trying to psych himself up for a meeting tonight that will decide whether or not he’s going to be allowed to play again. To calm his nerves at this daunting prospect, he needs, of course, to dose himself liberally with cocaine. Ghosts from his past appear to taunt him for his major screw-ups. Meanwhile, he’s pleading with his girlfriend/partner to give him another chance to prove himself worthy of her, even though she’s determined to leave him.

None of that departs very far from the motifs or genres of lots of current theatrical material. The unique aspect of the production is that it’s hosted by two tv hockey commentators. In the breaks between the three short acts – i.e. the "periods" – they interview the hockey player: How’s the game going so far? You’ve taken some pretty hard hits, there, haven’t you? What’s your plan for the next period? All the usual clichs. And he, in typical aw-shucks style, rattles off the expected responses.

But these announcers aren’t quite the straight-laced types you might expect. They (Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver) come armed with a bag of tricks to get the audience revved up. It’s quite a long time, I imagine, since any readers of Dilettante’s Diary, were forced to get to their feet and sing "O Canada" at the start of a play. (By the way, this one proved to be one of the most vigorous public renditions of the national anthem I"ve ever heard.) The announcers’ goofy shtick includes bits of tap dancing, soft-shoe and meticulously timed choreographic moves.

I think the point of the silliness is to show up the emptiness of hockey entertainment as such and to make a stark contrast to the dire struggle that the player is going through in the motel room. So the success of the play depends a lot on him. Tony Nappo gives it his all. He’s a tightly-wound dynamo of muscle, testosterone and rage, bouncing around the stage, sweaty and frantic, much of the time wearing nothing but skimpy bikini undies. It would be hard to imagine anybody providing more energy and conviction to the role. As for the writing of it, call me a sexist if you will, but I found it amazing that a young woman (Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman) had come up with such a compelling portrait of the damaged soul of a macho guy.

The team of Kordic’s tormentors is headed up by his mom, a hard-driven immigrant to Canada from Croatia. Ably portrayed with requisite venom by Maria Vacratsis, she pops up from behind the motel bed with fistfuls of abuse for this wayward son. We also get the somewhat hypocritical junior hockey coach (Layne Coleman) who tries to convince Kordic to look on his role not so much as an enforcer but a peace-maker. Then there’s the appearance of a clean-cut, impeccable hockey star (Brett Donahue). Few audience members could fail to recognize this apparition as "The Great One." He counsels Kordic to the effect that a decent Canadian hockey player doesn’t turn to cocaine to when he’s stressed: he goes out and establishes a camp for disadvantaged kids. The presence of this hockey "saint" gives Kordic the chance to argue that, if it weren’t for the protection he himself provides as an enforcer, the hockey heroes wouldn’t be able to achieve their fantastic feats.

One of the most touching scenes is the flashback to the first meeting with the stripper, Christy (Mellisa-Jane Shaw), who eventually became Kordic’s partner. In this scene, they’re in a private room at a strip joint and she’s pulling all kinds of erotic moves on him. But he just wants to talk about his problems with his dad. He’s almost oblivious to her seductive prancing.

Intriguing as the scene is, it goes on a bit too long. That’s symptomatic – in two distinct ways – of what I found problematic about this play: prolonged scenes and too much talk about Kordic’s dad.

About the latter, we get the point long before the play lets go and moves on. Clearly, Kordic, in Ms. Corbeil-Coleman's interpretation, had a  problem with his dad. The dad wanted to be proud of the fact that his son played in the NHL. Instead, the dad was ashamed of the fact that his son was a goon. So the dad wouldn’t talk to the son. The son pleaded for some kind of recognition from the dad. This issue about hockey dads makes for a particularly pointed comparison with the saintly hockey star. But the dad thing keeps coming back. After a while, we begin to think: isn’t there anything else? You do end up feeling sorry for the sad mess that Kordic has made of his life. But there’s too much emphasis on the dad-thing as the explanation.

The monotonous hammering away on that theme, along with the fact that some of the scenes drag, makes for a striking contrast between this play and Memorial (reviewed above). In the latter show, things moved very quickly. We were hit with something new every couple of minutes. The layering of the main character’s many facets kept getting more and more complicated. There was never any sense that you’d had enough of any one theme, that the playwright didn’t have enough to say.

That, unfortunately, is sometimes the thought that comes to mind in Sudden Death, fascinating though the play’s concept is. Admittedly, it might have looked better if I hadn’t seen the amazing Memorial the previous day.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com