Playing With Fire
shoots and scores
The Theo Fleury Story at the Centaur is an astounding show
By Byron Toben
Thanks for the favourable comments on my last posting about physical theatre. Little did I realize that this next show I was to review would be another exemplar of physical theatre while carrying an important social message as well.
Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story is the dynamic stage adaptation of hockey legend Theoren Fleury’s life story, adapted by Kirstie McLellon Day from the best selling book she co-authored with Mr. Fleury.
Ms. Day is the perhaps the most successful hockey writer around, having birthed other books on or with players Wayne Gretzky, Bob Probert and Kelly Hrudey, as well as announcer Ron MacLean.
She teamed up with director Ron Jenkins, who enticed star actor Shaun Smyth for this exhausting one man show. Mr. Smyth had to learn how to skate for it and wow, did he succeed.
Just as the Centaur Theatre replicated the interior of Schwartz’s Deli for its 2011 hit, so here the set is a skateable hockey rink, together with nets at either end, and boards in the background. Mr. Smyth zips and crashes as he narrates the story of a smallish (5’ 6’’) part indigenous kid who had to play tough to compete with bigger players at all stages until he finally made it to the NHL, helping the Calgary Flames to their first Stanley Cup and becoming one of the few 50 goal season scorers ever.
Just as the Centaur Theatre replicated the interior of Schwartz’s Deli for its 2011 hit, so here the set is a skateable hockey rink, together with nets at either end, and boards in the background.
Size wasn’t the only problem. He had been the object of sexual predation by his early coach, Graham James and finally went public after the example of fellow victim Sheldon Kennedy. This secret guilt contributed to his eventual alcohol and cocaine problems, even contemplating suicide.
Despite all this, there is a lot of humour in the play as, despite two failed marriages and dissipating his savings with his drinking, cocaine and gambling habits, he manages to right himself and the play ends with his proclaiming after retirement that he is “coming home”.
His money problems reminded me of the quip by Irish football legend George Best of Manchester United that “I spent most of my money on wine, women and fast cars. The rest I just pissed away.”
Anyway, as the Bard wrote, “all’s well that ends well”. Mr. Fleury now runs a hockey school, participates in a cement business, guests as a motivational speaker and supports various good causes. Here he is at the post show reception with Mr. Smyth and Ms. McLellan Day.
If you go, don’t overlook the wonderful art works in the lobby by fire artist Steven Spozuk who uses soot to create detailed images on paper.
Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story ends October 29.
Read more at centaurtheatre.com
Images: Electric Umbrella, unless indicated
Read also Saloon and Goblin Theatre, top physical theatre
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.