If we were to be completely honest, the idea of sanctioned fisticuffs within the game of hockey is folly. Bloodthirsty folly, but folly nevertheless, for its ungainliness and arbitrary nature. Face-punching is part of the game, I suppose, in the same way that tricycling bears are part of the circus.
But Cirque du Soleil has taken humiliated tigers and demeaned bears out of the circus and that seems to be going well for all parties concerned.
If fighting were actually part of the sport, we probably wouldn’t need to try so hard to overlook the random absurdity of it and sell ourselves on the notion. And if it were part of the sport, we probably wouldn’t have half the hockey films that have ever been made, as many of them hinge on the age-old contest between good and evil as clean versus dirty. We wouldn’t have Slap Shot, for example, which would be a shame because the 1977 Paul Newman film is a dandy one.
And it follows that we would also not have Slap Shot Live!, the fast-paced and farcical adaptation of the movie currently being mounted by The Second City, the Toronto company that is in the funny business, not the shinny business.
The movie revels in the mystical and mythical notion of “old-time hockey,” which involves an unclear memory of a vague past – nostalgia, in other words. Likewise, Slap Shot Live! traffics in nostalgia for the film. Fortunately, many of us remember the era and the movie very well, which makes for a comfortable and laugh-filled experience. Stubbies, sideburns and synthetic slacks – those were the 1970s.
Marc Hickox has clearly watched the film, as he sticks pretty close to the mannerisms of Paul Newman’s character of Reggie Dunlop, the past-it player-coach who reverses the fortunes of a minor-league hockey team in turmoil and full of cast-offs.
Three of the more hilarious misfits are the Hanson Brothers, the idiot-savant hooligans portrayed with gusto here. (Kyle Dooley finds middle ground between Rush singer Geddy Lee and Dana Carvey’s Garth from Wayne’s World for his portrayal of Jeff Hanson.)
Pop-culture references of the era (the first Rocky film, for example) are dropped in to spice things up. Jim Annan handles the role of a sleep-deprived broadcaster with aplomb. And well done, Paul Bates, as the pipe-smoking historian who indispensably serves as the context-setting narrator.
The hardest-working guy behind the scenes is Daniel Levinson, listed in the program as “fight director.” He’s in charge of uproarious brutality.
This playoff-level production is set at the rink, but the fight scenes are more about slapstick than slapshots. Fighting on skates, it is to laugh. To paraphrase Stompin’ Tom Connors: The good old hockey game, it’s the funniest game you can name.
Slap Shot Live! runs until July 14. secondcity.com.