As soon as I entered Factory Theatre for Sudden Death, I knew I was in for something special. The stage is part hockey arena, part motel room and part strip club. The play is based on the tragic life of hockey enforcer John Kordic. At first sight of the set, we’re transported into Kordic’s world, on his last night on earth. Oh Next Stage Theatre Festival, you never fail to delight and surprise!
Kordic won the Stanley Cup in his first year in the NHL. He played for four teams over his seven year career, including Montreal and Toronto. He was addicted to steroids, alcohol and cocaine. He was also deeply troubled by his relationship with his father. He died at the age of 27, alone, after an altercation with nine police officers.
Playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman has done a tremendous job of exploring this dark underbelly of Canada’s game. Sudden Death is more riveting than Game 7 of The Finals.
Sudden Death is presented in the format of a televised hockey game. Announcers for the game are Bob (Greg Gale) and Harry (Andrew Shaver). Both men are great in their pre and post-game reports and during intermissions. They are hilarious and even dance a little. They are like the announcers on cable sports networks, only they are far more entertaining.
The cast of seven is large for a relatively short play, but all seven actors are outstanding and memorable.
Tony Nappo plays John Kordic, and he is brilliant. At times he feels like a friend who just needs to go home and sleep it off. At other times, he is an animal. At times he seemed possessed and dangerous. Nappo was a drugged up hockey goon, he was Kordic. I was sitting a few rows back but Nappo was so believable that I made sure I knew where the exits were.
Melissa-Jane Shaw shines at Kordic’s love interest, Cindy. Cindy is almost two characters, and Shaw nails both. So much so that it took me a second to recognize her in the second period.
The “hockey team” onstage are all-stars, rounded out by Layne Coleman (Coach), Brett Donahue (The Great One) and Maria Vacratsis (Regina).
The offstage team also plays a great game. I can’t think of anything I disliked about Sudden Death.
Sudden Death has some similarities to the iconic hockey movie Slap Shot. Both have great acting and writing. Both have tons of hillarious moments. Both were written by women and based on real life. Both explore the human condition as much as they explore the game. You don’t have to know much about hockey to enjoy either. Both are brilliant.
Sudden Death is like Paul Henderson’s 1972 goal for Team Canada. You’ll want to see it over and over.
•All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
•Tickets for all shows are $15 for Evening Performances (7:00PM and after start time), $12 for Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time) and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
•Showtimes and ticket information for Sudden Death are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
-Photo of Tony Nappo by Jacklyn Atlas