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PTC hits the ice with ‘Hockey Mom’

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BANGOR – Penobscot Theatre Company is taking to the ice with their latest production.

The fictional town of Clara, Maine, has been Travis G. Baker’s wellspring for three plays with world premieres at Penobscot Theatre Company. The latest, “Hockey Mom,” may well be the best; this new show runs through April 16 at the Bangor Opera House.

The set and production are per usual fantastic. Faced with the daunting challenge of creating a realistic ice rink that doubles as living spaces, the design crew’s work is stunning. The lighting, sound effects, superimposed electronic scoreboard, clever props and use of photographs are stellar without ever being a distraction. The creative integration of technology rivals any show in recent memory.

Ruthlessly funny and gut-punch poignant, the mix of humor and pathos in “Hockey Mom” is fully realized by director Daniel Burson, who has taken full advantage of a stellar ensemble.

Jenny Hart as Cindy Hutchinson, dogged supporter of son Cole’s NHL dreams since he was a toddler, delivers a memorable and moving performance in a lead role demanding sophisticated comedic and dramatic skills. Allen Adams, as Darryl Hutchinson, Cole’s father, demonstrates again why he’s a PTC mainstay, exuding the pitch-perfect balance of fatherly wisdom and laissez-faire parenting his role calls for. Ted Gibson who plays the high school aged Cole who gets the most stage time, delivered a convincing performance with an impressive stage presence that adds loads of emotional impact. Luka Bogolyubov plays Cole at ten and splitting the role of toddler “Learn to Skate” Cole are Miles Green-Hamann, who appeared opening night, and Michael Melia. Both Bogolyubov and Green-Hamann evinced a flair for timing and executed Chaplin-like sight gags with uncommon aplomb and dexterity.

Michelle Weatherbee, as Becky, the driven hockey mom who befriends Cindy, exhibited sterling comedic skills and top-notch physicality bringing verisimilitude to her role and to the play as a whole. University of Maine junior Bell Gallis is most engaging as Zala, a Slovenian national team hockey player living in the US who is being recruited by top Hockey East college teams. Daughter of a former NHL player from whom she’s somewhat estranged, Zala possesses a wiser-than-her-years appreciation of the ephemeral nature of sport. On stage, Gallis exemplifies the theatrical adage there’s no need to say what the audience has been shown.

As the play begins, things are falling apart. Cindy and Darryl’s marriage is crumbling under the strain of trying to rescue the bankrupt plumbing business he inherited from his father, and the inordinate amount of time Cindy is devoting to Cole’s hockey life. When Cole’s junior year hockey season is ended by a serious concussion, Baker ramps up a story he knows well. Zala visits Cole as he recuperates, admits she was the one who knocked him out then tells him she’s moving and will play for his team for their senior season. (In Maine, many high school girls play on boys’ teams—such as former UMaine player Katy Massey and current players Morgan and Aly Trimper.)

It’s said there are but two stories—"There’s a Stranger in Town” and “The Hero or Heroine on a Quest.” When Cole’s injury lingers, though his teammates elect him captain, he fails to recapture his pre-concussion form, is demoted to the third line with Zala taking his place centering the first line and quits the team. Cole’s decision allows Baker to craft “Hockey Mom” as both stories—Cole’s quest to rediscover his love of hockey that Zala, the stranger, has taken from him.

Each character in “Hockey Mom” is on his or her own quest and as they struggle to overcome the obstacles in their way, Baker explores and exposes both the benefits and pernicious ills of youth sports. From his first days on ice Cole is unswerving in his belief that team comes first and that the best hockey players are selfless, a tenet handed down to him by Darryl, that he clings to even when it’s to his disadvantage until he loses his position to Zala. When Cindy begs him to reconsider, the audience is treated to a powerful scene and left to ponder whose dream is at stake. No spoilers here. Each character’s frailties and flaws are seen in riotously funny moments, their honorable struggles to find their way revealed in well-crafted, touching scenes.

While the toxicity endemic in elite youth sport travel teams, and corrosive behavior of obsessive parents are brilliantly satirized in Cindy and Becky’s rabid efforts to provide what they believe their sons require to reach the pros, both women remain utterly human and multidimensional. This is true for all the other characters as well. Despite setbacks, disappointments, or failures they remain resilient, decent, believable and in the end discover something of true value from the sport they love. That Baker accomplishes this so precisely is no small feat and is the strength of the play.

As the play concludes, Cole is challenged by Zala, Darryl, Cindy, and his younger self to rekindle his hockey flame. In this final trial of his quest, he will discover that the flame burns brightest in his relationships with the ones he cares for and those who care and have cared for him.

“Hockey Mom” is about moms and hockey, but ultimately it proclaims what makes us human. If you are considering a return to live theatre, “Hockey Mom”is a fine place to begin.

Last modified on Saturday, 02 April 2022 09:18


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