Romance on thin ice in ‘Hockey Mom’
Chilly bleachers at an early morning pee wee hockey practice don’t create much romance. Neither does a divorced father whose determination to date a divorced mother borders on stalking. But the Stoneham Theatre’s production of “Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad,’’ smoothes out some of the sharper edges of Canadian playwright Michael Melski’s occasionally amusing, if ultimately unsatisfying, romantic comedy.
Since Melski’s script rarely glides easily from one scene to the next, the credit for creating a more appealing play goes to director Weylin Symes, who has not only cast the likable Gabriel Kuttner and Danielle Perry as the lovelorn parents of the fledgling players, but found a way to feature local youth hockey players in the production. Scenic designer Jenna McFarland Lord has created a set that allows room for the bleachers, where the hockey mom and dad perch throughout the play, and space for a small rink covered in synthetic ice, where young hockey players are actually able to skate around. The design opens up the two-character play, and takes some of the pressure off some of Melski’s painfully goofy dialogue.
Watching the kids skate in the opening scene launches the audience directly into the story, and Symes’s decision to add local references, as well as the actors’ authentic Boston accents, gives “Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad’’ a comfortable familiarity. Melski has some spot-on references to the high cost, the crazy ice times, and the pressure on even the youngest players to win, but he’s less successful at developing his characters.
Kuttner plays the sincere but tactless Teddy with a balance of lonely guy sweetness and a rougher, more brutal streak. For her part, Perry’s Donna begins as a frightened mouse, vulnerable to Teddy and a little bit desperate, who blossoms under Teddy’s attention. Kuttner and Perry, who are a couple offstage, bring an easy chemistry to the pair, and create a believable attraction that doesn’t always come out of the dialogue (“Tell me if I’m offsides here,’’ Teddy says to Donna as he presses her on their relationship).
The duo work hard to emphasize Melski’s heartfelt humor and the characters’ vulnerability, but the playwright gives in too easily to the temptation to send his story directly into stereotype and cliché. Teddy and Donna are interesting characters because they are flawed, but after the first act’s setup, Melski isn’t sure what to do with them. He takes the easiest way out, turning “Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad’’ into a Lifetime channel drama of a woman who’s shy about dating again because both she and her son were abused by her ex. When Teddy encourages a fight at the end of a game, Donna is reminded of her own husband’s rage.
Although the play lasts the length of a pee wee hockey game (there is an intermission), at the end it’s hard not to feel robbed. Melski’s “Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad’’ makes us care about his characters, prepares us for a payoff, and then skates off the ice before the buzzer sounds.