by Lynn on January 9, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Melissa-Jane Shaw and Tony Nappo

At the Factory Theatre until Jan. 13. Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman. Directed by Matthew Mackenzie. Designed by Jenna McCutchen. Lighting by C.J. Astronomo. Choreography by Monica Dottor. Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Maria Vacratsis.

Part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

The title says it all. Sudden Death covers the imagined last day in the train-wreck of the life of hockey ‘Enforcer’ John Kordic. Kordic is in a seedy motel preparing for an important meeting with hockey execs in an effort to win back a place in the National Hockey League. He prepares by cutting a hill of cocaine on the table and snorting spoonfuls of the stuff to give him confidence, courage, whatever it takes to get him out the door. He is bedevilled by flashback memories of his past failures; his desperation for his father’s love and approval—neither of which was forthcoming; platitudes from the squeaky-clean-living ‘Great One Wayne Gretsky.’ He is further chastised by his harping but caring mother. And he is desperate for his wife Cindy to come back to him.

Kordic has a lot on his plate, besides the ‘white stuff’. He is ambivalent but resigned to his place in hockey as ‘the Enforcer’ a goon who pummels players more than he scores goals. He does it well and he knows it. Kordic is a rampaging, angry bull of a man, seething with rage, disappointment, frustration and desperation.

Playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman has captured that scummy world and its vivid dialogue. We get a sense of the underbelly of that murky world of drugs and violence that Kordic inhabited. The roles of Kordic and Cindy are particularly well drawn.

However I found the structure problematic. Corbeil-Coleman has structured the play like a three period hockey game complete with commentary by two fast-talking-vaudeville-type announcers named Bob and Harry. Added to that Greg Gale (Bob) and Andrew Shaver (Harry) play it as if they are indeed two thigh-slapping vaudeville types. The delivery is staccato fast, complete with humourous body-language and jokey handling of the flashbacks and other aspects of Kordic’s trouble life. The result is that it diminishes the seriousness of Kordic’s situation and seems to send it up until the sobering ending. If this is the intention of Corbeil-Coleman and her director Matthew MacKenzie it’s a serious misstep.

Two performances in particular do overcome that misstep. As Kordic, Tony Nappo is an explosion of fury and blinkered desperate hope. He prowls the stage (for the most part wearing only bikini briefs) looking like a caged animal that has to keep moving. He twitches, flexes his muscles, snorts his cocaine, sniffs, tries to clear his head, tries to convince himself this will work out and we know it won’t. This is a fearless performance full of control and thought, of a man out of control.

Matching him in a different way but still formidable is Melissa-Jane Shaw as Cindy, Kordic’s stripper-wife. Shaw flounces, struts and shimmies when Cindy first meets Kordic and charms him. Kudos go to choreographer Monica Dottor for the wonderfully seductive hip-grinding ‘dance’ Cindy does for Kordic on their first date.

As Kordic’s frustrated, disappointed wife Shaw conveys the emotion of a woman who loves him but can’t live with him. This is a multi-faceted performance of a tough, smart woman played by an actress who is as fearless as Nappo.

See Sudden Death for these two explosive performances.

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1 June 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

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