By Samara Caplan and Laura Gauthier. Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever).
The Undercurrents Festival is an incredible chance to see local artists and local theatre, we were so pleased to get to see the premiere of Pierre Brault’s latest play. You might be familiar with his much-lauded one-man shows, as Brault is an Ottawa theatre staple—even running his award-winning Blood on the Moon for three summers at the National Arts Centre—but this was a different sort of treat, as Brault created and directs the show, but is not in it.
Instead, Coach of the Year brings us three stellar performances by Brian K. Stewart, Brad Long and Mary Ellis as the titular Coach, budding hockey star, and his mother, as we watch them navigate a delicate and serious story that’s all too real and common.
As we delve into the story the audience is left to question if Glen would be where he is if it wasn’t for how things went all those years ago.
Glen, without a father figure and looking to fill a void, is a young, small-town hockey player. Coach Daryl Conners is a successful junior hockey coach, new to town, and spots Glen’s vulnerability immediately. The mother, who works as a waitress to make ends meet, is so relieved to have a strong father figure take interest in her son and provide encouragement and direction—Coach tells her he sees the NHL in Glen’s future—that she’s in denial that he could be anything but a positive influence for her son.
The play goes back and forth from Glen’s teen years on the team in the early ‘60s to his current-day self twenty years later as a long-haul truck driver. The play begins as his second wife has taken their daughter and left him, hinting at alcohol and abusive behaviour, right as Glen is setting off for another cross-country delivery in his new rig. As we delve into the story the audience is left to question if Glen would be where he is if it wasn’t for how things went all those years ago.
At a stop on his long drive, while watching a local hockey game, Glen is presented with an opportunity to confront Coach and we get to witness some of the best local acting in recent memory. The sensitive and serious subject matter is handled so well—a fine balance of addressing it without it becoming exploitative—and the small theatre at Arts Court allows the audience to see the pain and emotions in the actors faces as they deliver stunning performances.
We get to witness some of the best local acting in recent memory.
This is certainly a show that will leave an impact on you, and we couldn’t help but go for a drink after the show to discuss. Have things changed? We still see parallels in many aspects of our society with trusted adults in positions of authority and power. Denial when stories come forward. Lives impacted and a ripple effect, even a generational effect, of these traumas. Mental and other illnesses left untreated and ignored. Coach of the Year walks the fine line of trauma and abuse so well that it seems familiar and unacceptable at the same time.
A tale of power, manipulation and trust, this show is one not to be missed. Yes, there are moments where you will feel awkward and uncomfortable, and that is because the show deals with issues head on—forcing us all to face the tough conversations we would rather avoid. But these topics, conversations and stories are important and will work towards making a difference on the taboo topics of today’s society. One of the many messages you will walk away from this show with is the importance of talking about these issues and that it is about time we all stop sitting on the sidelines.
Coach of the Year continues at the Arts Court Studio as part of undercurrents and runs until February 16th. Check website for schedule. Tickets are $20 for individual shows or $100 for a full festival pass. The show runs about 80 minutes with no intermission.