Glory- Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary

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The cast of Glory, photo by Barbara Zimonick 

On Friday April 6th, hockey lovers in Calgary gathered in the Martha Cohen Theatre to celebrate diversity and equality in our best-loved sport. We all cheered for The Rivulettes; pioneering women of the 1930’s who loved the game and played against the odds, proving that hockey is for everyone. We shared a very Canadian story, united by our love of the game and our belief that it brings out the best in us. And that same night, 15 young people lost their lives.

We all wonder how we can help those effected by the Humboldt tragedy and how we as a community can cope with such immense sadness. In these times, theatre allows us to come together to share an experience that can bring some comfort or healing. For this and many, many other reasons, you should gather your hockey buddies and go see Glory. Share the experience, grab a drink after the show, and take some time to talk about these events.

Playwright Tracey Power says it best in her program notes: “We must continue to fight for glory in desperate times, against adversity and prejudice and racism”. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to find a way to make sure hockey is for everyone.

In the 1930’s, the depression had decimated the country’s economy and the terrors of the Second World War were close at hand. Facing job shortages, food shortages, shortages on courage and wherewithal, Canadians were desperate for comradery and entertainment. Perhaps that’s why we’re all so sentimental about this game; it’s been there for us through so many battles already.

Any play about hockey is naturally going to examine our collective Canadian psyche. Glory encourages us to ask why it’s taking so long to erase discrimination from the world of sport, but it’s also light and fun, with zippy choreography and upbeat jazz tunes that drive the delightfully inventive staging. The wooden boards that make up the set are scooted around the stage to form the shoe factory where the girls work, the train that takes them cross-country, the dressing room benches and of course, the rink. From rearranging the set to “skating” with no ice, dance and movement is a big part of the style and spectacle of the show, but it’s the characters you’ll fall head over skates for: The Rivulettes.

Hilda has the most experience. Her last minute substitution into a men’s pond hockey game is legend, even if she did pee her pants from fear! Calgarian actor Katie Ryerson brings both spirit and vulnerability to the team’s top scorer as we watch Hilda strive to overcome her self-doubt. Learning difficulties have held her back from the workplace, but her prowess on the ice and her passion as a team-player make her the perfect sportswoman- if she can only find a way to get paid to skate.

Her sister Nellie is the classic goalie, with memories of couch cushions tied to her limbs for her brothers’ target practice. Still waters run deep in Morgan Yamada’s portrayal, but Nellie’s very private struggles never hold her back from being there for her team, both between the pipes and in the dressing room. She is warm and caring, and as her personal challenges surface, we hope that the Canada of the future will allow Nellie to love and be loved for who she is.

Margaret “Marm” Schmuck, played with undeniable chutzpah by Gili Roskies, is fiercely proud of their Jewish roots, even though continuing discrimination is denying her acceptance into law school. When an anti-Semitic sign appears on the arena and misogynistic announcers pepper the game commentary with slurs and insults, she loses her temper.

Marm directs most of her rage at the Canadian-born German coach, the prickly Herbert Fach (Kevin Corey). Dared by a buddy into coaching a women’s hockey team, Fach provides essential on-stage representation for the men who feel threatened or confused by the idea of “the fairer sex” smashing each other into the boards and spitting blood on the ice.

The second Schmuck sister, Helen, proves that sports aren’t just for “Tom-Boys”. She loves to hit hard and play hard, but she also loves being a more “traditional” feminine woman and doesn’t want her muscles to get too bulky. Actor Kate Dion-Richard embodies every facet of Helen’s glorious complexity: she is goofy, charming, sexy, pragmatic, competitive, and for this reviewer, she is a triumph of female character development. Tracey Power’s writing paired with Dion-richard’s performance proves that a character who enjoys being “feminine” but also enjoys sport is not a contradiction.

Helen’s journey forces her to make tough choices betweeen her marriage and her team, between having a family and having personal ambitions, but that reality does not confine itself to the 1930’s.

I would have loved to see a portion of the play in a present day parallel to demonstrate what has changed and what we’re still fighting for. The Rivulettes dream of being drafted to the NHL, of having paid contracts, simply having equal access to ice time. Women’s hockey is more visible than ever before but it’s still fighting for equality on many of these age-old issues. Same goes for indigenous athletes, disabled athletes, athletes from poorer backgrounds or different cultures. We still have a very long way to go.

There are so many great stories about male atheletes. It’s about time we had a play like this to bring increased visibility to women’s sport, to inspire female athletes and encourage all of us to actively support diversity on and off the ice. Glory also champions women in theatre and I hope this play will encourage more female characters, playwrights, and creatives, marking a new era in women’s stories for the stage.

Glory plays at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons from now until April 21st. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com

 

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