Halfway through the first act of Travis G. Baker’s new play “Hockey Mom,” I wanted to march on stage and sit the mother down in the penalty box.
If the Orono playwright wanted theatergoers to feel sympathy and support for his hockey mom Cindy, he failed miserably. On the other hand, if he needed to paint a portrait of a mother who lives through her athletic son, Cole, and refuses to let him give up the sport she loves, then Baker has triumphed.
“Hockey Mom” opened last week at the Bangor Opera House. It is the third of Baker’s plays that Penobscot Theatre Co. has produced since 2014 when it launched “One Blue Tarp.” Two years later, it presented Baker’s farce “Hair Frenzy.”
The performance and production quality overall are strong, but “Hockey Mom” is the weakest of the trio because it is not clear how the audience is supposed to feel about Cindy, and the ending is too ambiguous. Does Cole finally make a break from his overbearing mother or not?
Director Dan Burson said in the program that the takeaway from “Hockey Mom” is: “The choices we make don’t last forever, usually, and you have to be ready for things to end. And for new things to begin.”
This lesson does not seem to apply to Cindy, Cole and hockey. All that changes about Cindy during the play are the tactics she uses to keep her son on the ice when he wants to quit.
Baker fares much better with his supporting characters.
Zala, the only girl on the team, is a well-defined character who has her own demanding parent. But her commitment to the game is her own, not her father’s.
Cole’s father, Darryl, loves hockey and seeing his son play but as the boy grows up, he is more willing to let him make his own decisions than Cindy is. Cole and his father’s relationship is tested when Darryl divorces Cindy and remarries.
Burson does an excellent job of staging the show that takes place at hockey rinks around New England and in Cole’s home. He makes the travel back and forth through time to when Cole began playing the game appear seamless. Despite the talky script, Burson keeps his actors moving, even skating at times.
Not being able to tell if Cindy is a sympathetic character makes it difficult to judge Jenny Hart’s performance. If this mother’s dedication to and obsession with her son and his future hockey career are supposed to evoke anger and condemnation from an audience, she succeeded masterfully. But if theatergoers are supposed to see themselves in Cindy and want to support her, Hart failed at making her sympathetic enough for the audience to do that.
Any fault, however, lies not with the actress but with Baker’s script.
Cindy has nothing else in her life but her son and hockey. It is mentioned once that she is a second-grade teacher but she never talks about her students or fellow teachers. Hart impressively lets Cindy’s desperation to keep Cole on the ice build to a frenzy in the second act. The local actress shows theatergoers what parenting should not be, especially in the teenage years.
As Cole, Ted Gibson is delightful. He is what every parent would describe as “a good kid.” The actor spars and dances with Hart but the two never seem to really connect. Gibson does that beautifully with Allen Adams, who plays his father Darryl, and with Bell Gellis as Zala, the female player who has a lot in common with Cole.
Adams and Gellis exhibit the best qualities a sports parent and a player should have, respectively. Adams’ Darryl is eager to help his son become a man making his own choices. Gellis’ Zala still has fun playing hockey. These characters are charming, in part, because they don’t take themselves or hockey as seriously as Cindy does.
Rounding out the cast are Luka Bogolyubov, Miles Green-Hamann and Michael Melia II, who all play Cole as a youngster, and Michelle Weatherbee as Becky, a fellow hockey mom who is far more well adjusted and has a lot more fun than Cindy does.
The technical work for “Hockey Mom” is superior. Sean McClelland’s set evokes the ambiance of local rinks, and Scout Hough’s lighting design complements it well. Costumes by Kevin Jacob Koski and sound by Neil E. Graham blend in well with the production.
Unfortunately, “Hockey Mom” continues a Penobscot Theatre Co. tradition of producing mediocre plays dressed up with fine performances and eye-popping technical work.
“Hockey Mom” will be performed through April 16 at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., Bangor. For information, call 207-942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.