Review: Frenetic and energetic hockey-inspired comedy scores big

Munish Sharma (left) and Ian Harmon (right) rehearse for 25th Street Theatre's production of 'Men Express Their Feelings,' running from March 9 to 20 at the Backstage Stage in Saskatoon and March 30 and 31 at The Artesian in Regina. (Supplied / Photo courtesy of 25th Street Theatre)

Hello out there, we’re on the air, it’s hockey night AND theatre night tonight — and the mix of the two brings a stunning amount of fun.

Men Express Their Feelings, the latest production from 25th Street Theatre, follows a pair of teens and their fathers dealing with the aftermath of a parking lot scuffle between the two dads. If the group is unable to express their feelings and find the root of the issue, both boys face the threat of expulsion from the hockey team.

Since the play is divided into three periods like a real hockey game, this review will also embrace the sports aesthetic and address the play period by period.

The puck dropped at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Backstage Stage for opening night — let’s get into the game!

First Period

The team came out of the gate a little slow, but it didn’t take long for all of them to settle into the rhythm of the game. The show jumps quickly between the present moment and flashbacks — Brad (Kody Farrow) and Raj (Powell Nobert) jumping between self-aware hockey announcers and a pair of young players facing expulsion from the team for their fathers’ quarrel was done surprisingly well.

The rapid-fire nature of the show, switching between memories and more dramatic (and sometimes ridiculous) “instant replays” of past moments, is what makes it unique. It definitely keeps things moving at an energetic pace, even if a bit of consistent story flow is lost as a result.

Credit has to be given to director Joshua Beaudry and the entire cast for making those transitions between past and present nearly seamless — it would be easy to believe you were watching actual game footage on TSN with how perfectly replays repeated and layered through the plot.

Second Period

Some key individual performances keep the show from stumbling through the middle, as the acting was MVP-caliber across the board.

It’s the parents who went on the power play during the middle period as the youngsters took more of the coaching role. Hotheaded Mr. Bacon (Ian Harmon) and the self-righteous-but-well-meaning Mr. Sharma (Munish Sharma) are brilliant foils of each other as parents, and of their respective sons highlighting generational differences.

Every new scene brings a new playmaker — Harmon giving a stunning depth to the stereotypical “hockey dad,” and Sharma masterfully displaying his poise as well as the personal demons lurking below. It’s hard to pick a favourite performer in this show because they all pass the proverbial puck to each other with aplomb. If the first period was a slow start, the second period is where everyone catches their stride.

Third Period

Men Express Their Feelings runs into the problem of trying to be and do everything, and the script might have been better served to narrow in on a few key topics instead of trying to address so many root causes and potential outcomes of toxic masculinity and cultural tension.

The frenetic nature of the show does nothing to Zamboni out this particular bump on the ice, as we jump so swiftly from topic to topic and back again that it’s almost impossible for any of those emotional payoffs to feel earned.

But an imperfect gameplan is rescued by flawless execution. Tight direction and brilliant character moments from the whole cast help create a satisfying, if somewhat saccharine, conclusion. Farrow and Nobert in particular flex some real acting chops in bringing this comedy to an emotional and believable close.

Postgame notes

This play tackles a lot of important topics, but at its core it’s a fun and believable comedy. We speed through character development for the sake of a satisfying conclusion, but the show doesn’t ever feel rushed — just missing a little something to flesh out each role.

The light and sound design is on point, and the chemistry in this cast is just perfect. It’s a real all-star lineup of performers.

The bear mascot Roary is funny and gets the crowd involved like a real hockey game — an audience has probably never done “the wave” in the Backstage Stage before.

This show is truly laugh-out-loud funny — whether you’re a hockey fan or a theatre fan, you won’t be able to hold back your laughter at the real and ridiculous hijinks of Men Express Their Feelings.

Men Express Their Feelings runs from March 7-20 at the Remai Arts Centre Backstage Stage and March 30 and 31 at The Artesian in Regina. Tickets can be purchased at 25thstreettheatre.org.

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