The eccentric side of a hockey legend is explored in the latest script brought to the stage by Surrey’s Naked Stage company.
The Paul McLaughlin-penned Jacques Plante and the Parkdale Knitting League is performed as reader’s theatre at Newton Cultural Centre from March 16 to 18.
Hockey fans will know the title character as the Montreal Canadiens goaltender who in 1959 revolutionized the game by wearing a mask for protection on a regular basis.
The comedy-accented drama tells the story of Plante, who was an avid knitter, and blends historical fact with the imaginary tale of Violet Henderson, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a zealous Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
“Violet becomes attracted to Plante because of their mutual love of knitting and to fight back at her husband, Fred, who hates the accomplished Montreal player,” according to a description of the play on McLaughlin’s website. “She begins a long one-sided relationship with Plante, by mail, until the goalie is traded to Toronto late in his career, at which point she decides they have to meet in person.”
Colleen McGoff Dean directs the award-winning play for Naked Stage, for which only scripts and chairs are required for the actors – no costumes or sets needed. A lit “naked” stage serves as a sort of blank canvas for the actors to do their thing.
“We tell people it isn’t about fancy lighting, there are no costumes, there is no set, and people wonder, ‘Well, what is it?’” related McGoff Dean, a South Surrey resident. “I tell them it’s character development, and it’s the embodiment of those characters by the actors, but it’s also more theatre of the mind.”
The actors have been rehearsing weekly at Semiahmoo House Society headquarters on 24th Avenue.
“The nice thing about reader’s theatre is there is no need for an onerous rehearsal schedule that a regular show needs, because we don’t have to work on as much staging and sets and things,” noted McGoff Dean, a college teacher who specializes in communications studies.
Two decades ago, she was cast as Violet in a White Rock Player’s Club production of Jacques Plante and the Parkdale Knitting League.
“Back then, I had my mother-in-law teach me how to knit for the role because I thought, this is White Rock and there will be women in the audience who have probably knitted their entire lives, so I better look like I know what I’m doing.”
For Naked Stage this season, the company was looking for something to appeal to a wider range of people – “you know, men who might not be so interested in theatre might be interested in this play,” McGoff Dean said. “I mean, romance, knitting and hockey, where do you get that combination together, right? So I was familiar with the play, and I mentally counted up the number of cast members, and it worked out.”
One “interesting challenge” for the director has been how to portray Violet’s dreams about Plante.
“She has these fantasies about him, and it’s the tricky thing – how do you allow her to talk about these fantasies when he is physically sitting there,” McGoff Dean explained. “You have to convey to the audience that this is all in her head.”
Originally from the Bay Area of California, McGoff Dean years ago took a college course that taught aspects of reader’s theatre.
“I loved the fact the you, Tom, or anyone, could play an 80-year-old woman, even a four-year-old boy, and that’s because the actors aren’t limited by any physical appearances,” she said. “It’s whatever that person can do with their voice.”
She learned of Naked Stage’s productions locally while reading a newspaper story a couple of years ago.
“My husband is the one who saw it, and I was tracking these guys down as soon as I finished reading the article, because here was somebody who understand reader’s theatre and was working with it locally.”
Jim Trimble, a founder of the theatre company, is excited to stage the play about the hockey great.
“You really get some insight into the life of this goalie, and what those around him were like,” he told the Now-Leader during an interview at Newton Cultural Centre, where the play will be staged three times on the weekend of March 16-18.
McGoff Dean, who was among the actors in a Naked Stage production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore last spring, directs six actors for the staging of the Jacques Plante play. This is her directorial debut for the company.
The actors are Clive Ramroop (as Plante), Nancy Painter (as Violet), Braden Deans (the coach), George Stone (as Fred Henderson, Violet’s husband), Pete McCreath (the announcer) and Lorraine Landry (as Plante’s two wives, Jacqueline and Raymonde).
“We have two new actors (to Naked Stage), including Nancy, who I know from shows at White Rock Player’s Club, where I’ve worked for a number of years, and also Braden, somebody I also met through the player’s club 20 years ago, and he’s gone on to do other things and hasn’t been involved in acting for awhile. So I said to him, ‘Braden, I know you can do this.’”
With the exception of Fred and Violet, all characters in the play are based on real people.
Raved Trimble: “George Stone is absolutely fantastic as Fred, who aspires to be this hockey player but he realizes he’s over the hill so he then dreams of having a son who’s a hockey player.”
Violet’s husband is “kind of the quintessential 1950s husband,” McGoff Dean explained, “whose role is to put food on the table and a roof over his family’s head and then watch hockey with the boys, and the wife is supposed to put out the food. So one of the sub-themes in this is Violet finding her own identity other than just serving food to everybody, so she comes up with a plan where, well, you guys can have your hockey night every Saturday and the ladies just end up knitting, well, we’re going to have our own league, the Parkdale Knitting League. So it’s Parkdale because that’s where we live, knitting because that’s what we do, and league just to annoy the men. So it’s her in this loveless marriage and it’s Fred that says, ‘Hey, look, finally a hockey player you have something in common with, this goalie named ‘Jack Plant,’ in that Toronto accent of his.”